Providers of communications and high-tech products and services give away, on average, 28% of the technical service and support they deliver to business customers each year – because they lack insight into what customers are entitled to receive.

Accenture research, into providers and customers, explored the state of business customer service in the communications services, communications equipment, electronics and high-tech industries, querying more than 650 senior executives from 11 countries.
"While there are some legitimate reasons why providers might give away technical service especially to their biggest, most important customers, lacking enough customer insight about what customers are entitled to receive is not a good enough reason to give it away at no charge," says Mark Joseph, director of Accenture's Communications and High Tech.
"Providers must obtain the customer insight needed to make more informed decisions about whether to give away the service and, if so, to whom, or if they should charge for these services. In today's challenging economic climate, businesses need to find innovative ways to grow and improve their revenues."
The research uncovered another sizable problem: almost 30% of business customers surveyed are considering switching to another provider because they are dissatisfied with the quality of customer service they receive. With their current providers each of these customers spends, on average, $15-million on products and customer service per year.
The research also revealed that 70% of business customers said that it's possible for a provider to create an experience that "locks in" their future business.  At the same time, 70% of providers said that improving the overall customer experience and customer satisfaction ranks as their main business priority for 2009.
When asked why they are challenged in delivering superior service, the three reasons providers cited most often were their lack of supporting technology (selected by 30% of respondents), a dearth of trained resources (29%), and non-existent definitions of support processes (22%).
According to providers and customers, the quality and competence of service agents, along with their ability to address customer concerns on the first phone call or e-mail, rank as the two most important factors in delivering a superior, differentiated service experience.
Respondents were asked to explain, in their own words, what they consider to be the main characteristics of a superior, differentiated customer experience. Their responses fell into several categories, the top three of which were: know-ledgeable staff and accessible support (32%); efficient and timely problem resolution (26%); and proactive, personalised solutions (21%).
"Customers look to the quality of customer service they receive, or other higher-end offerings, as a way to differentiate between providers," says Joseph. "They're saying: 'Be there when I need you and make sure you take care of my problem quickly, without sending me to another person. Make it a superior experience for me.
"These providers need to determine what customers really want in a service and support experience, which means becoming truly customer-centric, aligning service capabilities to anticipate and address customer needs. By doing so, they can more effectively differentiate themselves from competitors, strengthen customer loyalty, and take major strides toward becoming high-performance businesses."
Another key finding of the research is that providers estimate they will earn nearly one-third of their future customer service and support revenue by 2013 from service and support offerings that do not currently exist.
To build the kind of service and support capabilities that can help them achieve high performance during and after the current economic crisis, Accenture recommends six actions communications and high-tech companies should take:
* Enhance the content on the service and support portal;
* Invest more in training and developing customer service agents;
* Enhance the knowledge of each provider's installed base;
* Improve first-call or email resolution;
* Improve the overall customer experience of self-service, not just reduce costs; and
* Implement analytical and diagnostic tools.