Premium customer service at the price of low retention a poor investment

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When a company begins an announcement with the words, “To further enhance a great customer experience…” what frequently follows is a statement that might suggest otherwise. Dell began its announcement of its new premium support option thusly, and as it outlines the inarguably great benefits — paying customers can talk to the same, North America-based technicians every time they have a problem — it is an unfortu­nate reminder of how quality assistance can often be lacking from many companies' customer service arms. Apocryphally at least, Dell's customer service is not known for its univer­sally premium quality.

Air Canada made a similar move earlier this month: Custom­ers who pay extra for their tickets would receive extra help in the event of delays beyond the airline's control. Rather than Dell's year-round service, this is just a one-off benefit, making it seem more like an insurance payment.

It's a long-established practice to ration high-quality assistance according to how valuable a customer is over the long term — and how painful they are to deal with. Many people are out­raged by this; I've had complaints when we've run thinkpieces from respected professionals who concede that not all customers warrant the extra time. Bringing in a queue-jumping element in the shape of a paid service would certainly appease some high-maintenance customers, and impel a company to give time to them that they otherwise might not have. But this mustn't be to the detriment of the overall customer experience.

In tight economic times, companies are looking to make cuts across the board. But it's more important now than ever that companies invest in customer retention. Premium services are a great offer, but any company that cuts its basic customer service offering will get what it deserves.

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