UK Customer Satisfaction Index 2019: National mood or business nerves?

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Mike Barnard 5th February 2019 5 minute read

UK Customer Satisfaction Index 2019: National mood or business nerves?

Customer satisfaction is down; customer effort is up. So says the latest survey of customer satisfaction in the UK, by the Institute of Customer Service. Mike Barnard, Executive Officer, Capita Customer Management, considers what business can divine from the findings – and whether alarm bells should be ringing.

One of the biggest headlines in this latest set of UKCSI figures was the continuing drift downwards in overall customer satisfaction. The fall may not be dramatic – 0.4 points - but it’s noticeable, and this is the third consecutive drop.

Why should this be?

Perhaps customer expectations are simply getting higher. People are becoming more demanding about what they expect service to be for them as an individual. The experience we were happy with yesterday may not be the experience we want today.

But I suspect there’s something more structural behind it. Service is a combination of policy, process, infrastructure, but investment too, including in people.

As businesses are becoming more circumspect about the future, and the uncertainty it promises, those investment purse strings are tightening. We certainly see that in our world. In areas like retail there’s no doubt that we’re starting to witness businesses increasingly ‘resourcing to budget’. 

By that I mean, where they historically might have had an ambitious set of SLAs that Capita would jointly help them to achieve, now they are making decisions to support the SLAs they can afford, rather than starting with the service experience they want and working backwards.

They are definitely doing it reluctantly - they’ve not abandoned the belief that great customer service is important - but it’s a response that demonstrates the structural issues the sector is facing at the moment. There is undoubtedly resourcing pressure on retail businesses. One result is that they are focussing the investment they do have on the frontline where the pain points are.

Some retailers still see contact centres, web chat, and all the many other channels as a back office support function (though we would argue the better approach is to view them instead as a virtual store).

Unfortunately the back office is frequently an area that’s easy to cut back on. Today, I think companies are becoming less inclined to invest in back office infrastructure, technology, finance systems, HR systems, a big ERP platform, etc. So recently we’ve been helping clients find new ways to support the middle and back office while still protecting that investment in the frontline. And it’s been successful. We’re seeing some real opportunities to create new routes for clients to do that.

Customer effort is on the increase. Is something skewing the results?

Another change that the UKCSI noted – linked to the fall in satisfaction - was the rise in customer effort; a measure of how hard customers have to work to get the result and experience they are looking for.

Here I think it is possible to see why that might be happening. Part of our job is to help our clients move the easier contacts from offline to online (which we are very good at doing). But ultimately that means the voice channel ends up with the really tough moments of truth, such as complaints management, sales interventions, re-signs, terminations and so on. By definition those are much more complex conversations.

So the explanation could be that we are in the slightly bizarre situation of generating systematically lower customer effort across many digital channels – which customers may not necessarily notice – while the human assisted channels are actually feeling like harder work.

What we haven’t yet disaggregated is whether that increase in effort is a result of this mix effect, or whether it’s something else; whether fundamentally, across all channels, life is just getting more complicated for all customers. We phone, we email, we chat, we buy online, we self serve… and believe it or not, it still remains extremely difficult for brands to recognise a single customer across all those interactions. It’s a major challenge that we continue to help many of our clients address, because the potential in enabling that single, simpler, joined up view is an improvement in personalisation, customer satisfaction and business performance.

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