Why the First Call From a Customer Is the Most Important Research finds that potential customers unhappy with their first experience contacting a company are unlikely to ever return.

By John Boitnott

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


If repeat business is your goal, good customer service is essential. According to a recent survey, one bad customer service call will send most customers away permanently. Since repeat customers bring in more money than new customers on average, it's important that businesses find ways to nurture their existing buyers and this includes the customer service phone call.

The survey, conducted by the PH Media Group, asked 2,234 Americans their opinions on customer service handling. It revealed just how important that first phone call can be. Fifty-nine percent of those participating said that if the first call to a company's customer service line isn't handled properly, they will never buy from that business. This demonstrates the importance of making sure every caller receives top-quality service. Without monitoring call center performance, businesses may be losing customers without even realizing it.

The survey found older customers are the least tolerant of poor handling by a business's customer representatives. It makes sense that older customers might place greater importance on live calls since they've experienced those since before there was an Internet. Older customers tend to use online customer service platforms less often than younger customers.

According to the survey, of those in the 55 to 64 age group, an unsatisfactory phone experience would lead 63 percent to never buy from a brand again. For businesses whose demographics skew to Baby Boomers, this finding may mean you should be investing more in customer service.

Related: 5 Ways to Improve Customer Service for Seniors

Customers between the ages of 18 and 24 reported more tolerance for a negative call handling experience but 54 percent of respondents said they wouldn't buy from a business again. Since this age group is forming relationships with brands for the first time in their adult lives, positive customer service experiences is crucial.

Regional differences factored into the survey, as well. The least tolerant customers lived in the West and Northeast regions of the U.S., with Southerners being the most tolerant. However, the rates ranged from 61 percent in the West and Northeast to 59 percent in the South, so more than half of respondents in each region said they wouldn't return to a business after an unsatisfactory phone call to customer service.

Effective call handling.

The marketing group that managed the research believes that the phone has become an important lead conversion tool, with customer service representatives having the prime opportunity to create lasting customers through the service they provide. Failure to provide that level of service seriously damages a business's profitability long term.

Mark Williamson, sales and marketing director at PH Media Group, says every aspect of the phone-based customer service experience should be studied.

"This means scrutinizing the way calls are answered, the phone manner of customer service advisors and the sounds heard while on hold, including voice and music," he says.

Businesses should also examine how calls are escalated, as well as how everything feels from the customer's end.

Related: Social Media is Great, But Don't Forget Old School Marketing

Improving service.

Once a business has viewed the call handling experience from the customer's perspective, it's time to take action. Often what customers respond to best is an empathetic listener who truly wants to resolve an issue. When a customer is upset or even hostile, representatives need to know how to handle the situation.

Audio branding is another way for a business to protect its reputation while improving the customer experience. With audio branding, customers have an auditory experience that further enhances brand image, from the messages they hear while on hold to the style of the customer service representative's assistance.

When customers call a business to complain or ask questions, it's important that the experience convince them to buy from that company in the future. This means businesses must invest in finding and training capable customer service representatives and give them the tools they need.

Related: Reduce Turnover in Customer Service With These 3 Tips

John Boitnott

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® VIP

Journalist, Digital Media Consultant and Investor

John Boitnott is a longtime digital media consultant and journalist living in San Francisco. He's written for Venturebeat, USA Today and FastCompany.

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