Providing quality customer service can be a struggle for many companies. But are service providers faced with a unique disadvantage?

If you saw last week’s American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACMI), you might think so. Specifically, the Wall Street Journal summarized the results from the 2013 (ACMI), an annual survey of 70,000 consumers that measures their satisfaction with more than 230 companies across more than 40 industries in 10 economic sectors. Each industry receives a score between 65 and 100.

Here’s a look at this year’s Bottom Ten – notice that service providers comprise (in bold) 8 of the 10 worst customer service scores!

1.  Internet Service Providers – 65
2.  Subscription Television Service — 68
3.  Airlines — 69
4.  Internet Social Media — 69
5.  Health Insurance — 72
6.  Wireless Telephone Service — 72
7.  Gasoline Stations — 73
8.  Internet News & Information — 73
9.  Fixed Line Telephone Service — 74
10.  Cellular Telephones | Computer Software | Internet Travel | Municipal Utilities (tied with) 79

These service providers are not immune to the growing influence of technology over customer interaction. Their users are active across traditional, digital and social channels. The services they consume can require complex resolutions and certainly require consistency across channels. I’m guessing they may not truly know their customers, along with which products they use and challenges they are having, via the most common channel, the phone.

If companies in these industries are like many that have come to Coveo for help, their agents are likely suffering from an insight deficit—making them ill-equipped to handle increasingly complex requests.

These problems become magnified when customers communicate across multiple channels with the provider, and when data, communications, products and services exist in multiple systems. And in reality, where do they not exist in multiple systems? Service agents likely need to comb through a variety of places to find the answer and they may have no clue about whether that customer issue is one that matters (but that’s another blog). In some cases, they cannot find the answer at all, and may end up escalating the case to next-level support.

If service companies want to improve their customer service reputation, they need to consolidate information in real time, from the channels where customer interactions are taking place – this includes social data (and mobile, for the cellphone providers on the list). Then they need to correlate that content in a way that’s relevant to the service agent’s and the customer’s specific context. Until they can obtain a 360-degree view of customer interactions, challenges and relevant information, agents will not be able to adequately respond to inquiries – and customers will not be able to solve their own challenges via self-service.  It goes without saying that these companies will not improve their score.

For inspiration, look at a company that’s doing it right from a completely different industry. One of our clients is Majedie Asset Management, a leading institutional investor in the UK. One of its principles, Simon Hazlitt, believes that “People say that good client service is a function of scale. We disagree. It’s a function of efficiency and alignment.” Majedie’s ability to efficiently access all of its internal knowledge has won the firm several prestigious client service awards in the financial services industry.

Service providers – what do you think? Does your industry get an unfair reputation for poor customer service? What steps are you taking to improve customer service at your organization?