Recent research into customer service in the UK damned the customer experience as "mostly underwhelming".
Forrester research in the US has prepared a Customer Experience (CXi ) index for many years to help retailers, leisure, travel, utility and hospitality providers, differentiate themselves more effectively, but their report card for the UK is still lamentably C minus.
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British online consumers rated the experience of UK brands as "poor" to "okay" and in other sectors, such as hotels and TV service providers, there was little to choose between brands, and sadly not because they were all scoring highly.
Most UK brands simply don't ask the right questions, or worse, ask no questions of their customers at all. By not asking, they miss out on data which could directly impact on their business, their profitability, the likelihood of customers to recommend them to others and the chance to sell more product to existing purchasers.
The frustration of carrying a national reputation for poor service onwards into the 21st century is overwhelming. The technology exists to provide real-time feedback on key criteria to all staff and to make this an ongoing focus for changing behaviour and exerting real change, but there still seems little appetite for seeking genuine feedback in Scotland.
It's not rocket science. Our experience suggests all that customers really want is a company which meets their needs and is easy and enjoyable to do business with.
In return, Forrester predicts that any company which claims just a one point advantage over their industry average CXi score can expect a footfall and revenue advantage of 10 per cent. But if service providers don't know how they are performing, they can't effectively change. And even those who do invest in customer service improvement need to measure and benchmark their performance or how do they know if there are key aspects in which they could do better.
Our analysis suggests that totally satisfied customers contribute 2.6 times the revenue of satisfied customers and 17 times the revenue of those who report themselves as dissatisfied. The revenue and profit stakes are high.
The key drivers of retail customer satisfaction levels surround relatively simple things like staff/customer interaction and product availability. Ratings for first impressions, knowledgeable, friendly and helpful staff and having a good range of products in stock regularly feature as the most significant variables in ensuring customer delight. This is echoed in a recent Ipsos Mori poll where customers said they appreciated dealing with companies whose staff made them feel valued or special, where they say they were treated as individuals, were listened to and felt they had the opportunity to ask questions.
This year's Which? Report into retailers also highlights outstanding customer service as the key differentiator. Which? Editor Richard Headland adding: "People won't settle for bad customer service and this is supported by the results of our high street shops survey. Stores giving people the care and attention they want have happy customers who return."
Many commentators argue that choice has killed brand loyalty but I'd argue that the opposite is true. That in a time of unlimited choice, people feel most comfortable with brands they know and trust, and that trust depends on the fragile concept of customer service.
Brands which do not embed service behaviours in their core activities, continuously monitor success on a realtime basis and respond immediately when something goes wrong are playing Russian Roulette with their reputations and leaving success to chance.
David Capaldi is managing director of MacGregor and MacDuff Kiltmakers and CEO of customer experience management software provider Opinurate