Keeping your promises? Here’s what your customers think

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Jo Causon 22nd July 2019 5 minute read

Keeping your promises? Here’s what your customers think

Jo Causon, CEO of the Institute of Customer Service, takes us through the latest UK Customer Satisfaction Index. Why are this summer’s figures significant, what can organisations learn, and how can they gain an advantage in these uncertain times?

What stands out for you in this latest set of UKCSI figures?

“This is the fourth consecutive wave, across two years, that we’ve seen a decline in customer satisfaction. Now it’s not fallen off a cliff, but it has become a trend, and for me that’s an ongoing concern.

“Also there are two headline figures that are really striking. First, the number of customers who have experienced a problem with an organisation is 14.3% - the highest level we’ve ever recorded. Second, and perhaps more worryingly, is the proportion of those problems that relate to organisations not keeping their promises. That’s gone from 5% to 17.2% in just two years – a threefold increase, which is huge.”

Why are those particular results so significant?

“They tell me that while organisations may have got better at recovery and improved their complaints processes, they don’t always appear to have learned much from it. They’re not taking that customer feedback and using it to design better customer journeys and experiences. They are also still developing processes that are internally focused and not aligned, and ‘selling’ rather than building long term relationships.  

“I think there are still too many organisations that see customer service as a ‘pink and fluffy’ subject rather than something that has to be considered strategically at board level, and is directly linked to performance and long-term profit and productivity of an organisation. I suspect that’s why we’re seeing the results that we are.”

Are there areas where you see businesses missing opportunities to impress customers?

“Something we’ve taken a closer look at this time is the impact of personal context on customer experience. What we see is that when customers experience a problem that is very personal to them, organisations can make a massive impact – particularly in terms of loyalty – when they get things right. If organisations can make an emotional connection with the customer at this particular point, loyalty and trust just soar.

“That’s not to do with different age groups, or Millennials, or anything like that. It’s true for anyone and it’s about genuinely seeing ‘me’ as an individual; understanding that my personal context should make a major difference to how organisations interact with me. That’s something we really see coming to the fore now. With the advent of AI and both structured and unstructured data, those organisations that build trust by the appropriate use of this data could gain a significant advantage.”

What lessons should organisations be looking for in these findings?

“There’s a lot going on in the external environment at the moment, a lot of uncertainty, and when that happens it’s easy for organisations to take their eye off the ball. They focus on the transactional and cut anything that isn’t, and they often suffer because of that short-term view. Where organisations are smart and see customer service as a way of differentiation, they invest in it, and they prosper.

“What I would say to boardrooms is look at the decline we’ve seen in customer satisfaction in the last two years, and ask yourself: what happens if you don’t address that? Where will you be if that figure keeps on going down?”

And where will they be?

“Customer satisfaction is a predictive indicator. We have been doing the UKCSI for ten years now. When I track the ebbs and flows across that time there is a lot of evidence to say that organisations suffering a fall in both their customer satisfaction and their employee engagement will sooner or later see a fall in financial performance too. Often sooner.

“Our own research shows that £122billion was lost to the UK economy last year through poor customer service. That equates to the time organisations are spending rectifying issues that they or their suppliers created, or the time we as consumers spend at work, trying to resolve our own personal issues.

“£122 billion. That is a frightening figure. And let’s remember, we are a service economy. 80% of the UK GDP is services related and 76% of the UK workforce works in some customer related role. So customer service and customer experience have never been more important.”

How about us as consumers?

“I think we are probably all more anxious than we used to be. That external environment has an influence on us too; we’re more stressed, more tense. But also there’s a great opportunity there for organisations to address that and differentiate themselves by taking some of the strain out of people’s lives and building, when appropriate, authentic and meaningful relationships.”

What’s the positive news companies can take away from this?

“Journalists sometimes ask me ‘is it because customers expect too much?’ Actually that’s the wrong question. Customers expect what they expect. It’s no good saying ‘well I think you’re being unreasonable’. We have to deal with that. But we can be very good at that indeed, so the question is how?

“What the UKCSI has proved, and continues to prove, is that it can be done. Amidst all the figures are organisations absolutely smashing their customer satisfaction figures out of the park every year.

“When things are tough you need to stay really focused, stay clear about your purpose, keep checking in that you are relevant and keep measuring impact rather than activities.

“All of the research we’ve done says that when organisations outperform in customer satisfaction over longer periods of time – and when their boards obsess about it - they get better financial results. For companies who can do that, and do it consistently, the chance of long term survival and prosperity is clear to see.”

Find out more about the UK Customer Satisfaction Index.

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