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Poor customer service costs £15.3bn

5th Oct 2009
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UK businesses are losing billions per year as customers defect to companies that can offer better a customer service and experience, according to new research.

Poor customer service is costing UK businesses a massive £15.3bn per year as customers defect and abandon their purchases, new research has revealed.

Financial services, utilities and telecommunications firms are at most economic risk from poor customer service, according to The Cost of Poor Customer Service: The Economic Impact of the Customer Experience, a report conducted by Greenfield Online and sponsored by Genesys Telecommunications Laboratories in collaboration with industry analysts at Datamonitor and Ovum.

A total of 514 UK-based consumers were asked about the frequency of their interactions with businesses via the web, contact centres and mobile devices. They were also asked to identify the impact of those interactions on their purchasing decisions. The survey group identified their service priorities and indicated the changes most needed for improving the quality of their customer service experiences.

Proactive engagement

In addition to the £15.3bn loss to the UK economy due to poor customer service, the survey also uncovered that:

  • 73% of consumers ended a relationship due to a poor customer experience.
  • The average value of each lost relationship is £248 per year.
  • 39% of consumers said it is critical for companies to provide more intelligent self-service so they are not trapped in unproductive automated systems.
  • 83% of consumers welcome more proactive engagement if it improves their experiences.

"With the rise of social media and increased consumer awareness, the cost of customer frustration continues to grow,” said Daniel Hong, lead analyst of customer interaction at Ovum. “We're advising enterprise businesses in the UK to develop cohesive strategies that straddle all channels of customer communication.

“The difference between delivering exceptional customer service and merely providing acceptable service is pronounced. Differentiating on service, especially in service-centric industries such as finance and telecommunications, is how enterprises can retain customers in today's challenging business climate."

The industries in which enterprises in the UK are suffering the biggest losses are financial services, utilities and telecommunications, which lose substantially more customers than companies in other industries, according to the report.

Nearly a quarter of consumers said they abandoned a financial services company or utility in the past year. Even industries that were previously safe from competition, such as utilities, must now pay closer attention to the customer experience. 

Younger consumers are more likely to end relationships based on poor customer service than older consumers, the research found. Survey participants who end a business relationship said they take their business to a competitor 66% of the time, with the other 34% of their business is completely abandoned.

The root of poor customer service

The survey revealed the following significant root causes of poor customer service based on consumer sentiment:

  • Having to repeat information.
  • Feeling trapped in automated self-service.
  • Being forced to wait too long for service.
  • Interacting with representatives who have no knowledge of the service history (or consumer value).
  • Unable to easily switch between communication channels.

The most challenging communication channel is voice self-service. Nearly half (41%) of consumers cite voice self-service as the most challenging communications channel, compared to only 1% who find it most satisfying. In addition, 39% of consumers said it is critical to improve voice self-service to make it integrate more intelligently with human assisted service.

In customer service experiences where the consumer was ‘trapped’ in an automated system, consumers spent, on average, more than 10 minutes trying to reach a live agent. Even paper-based mail, which can be a considerably slower communications channel, is preferable to poorly implemented voice self-service systems.

Consumers say the biggest issues influencing their perception of voice self-service have to do with automated systems not recognising their unique value to the company, the lack of context during the interaction, and the need to more effectively recognise customer needs and intent.

Greatest sources of customer satisfaction

Consumers were also asked to identify the factors that make the biggest difference in improving satisfaction levels. According to the data, consumer satisfaction increases when companies meet four key needs:

  • Competency
  • Convenience
  • Proactive engagement
  • Personalisation

More than 83% of consumers defined proactive engagement as a “strong benefit” or would “welcome proactive assistance” when stuck on the web or in some form of self-service.

“Most businesses understand that turning the customer experience into an emotional engagement adds value to their brand and results in consumers who are more loyal and satisfied,” said Keith Pearce, senior director of EMEA marketing at Genesys. “It is important for businesses to continually gain perspective on the changing nature of customer service, as well as consumer perceptions of it."

Replies (3)

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By giovanni
05th Oct 2009 15:16

Totally agree with this article. If ever senior managment wanted proof that customer service and poorly designed customer experiences cost money here it is ! We dont expect poor standards from other organisations we deal with, but don't seem to realise that the organisations we work for are no better. Wake up smell the coffee.

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By Chris Hancock
12th Oct 2009 11:23

The failing of many customer service propositions is that too many organisations are content with just doing ‘enough’, and all too often this doesn’t come close to meeting customer expectation.  In the case of sectors like financial services, utilities and telecoms, customers present an even greater propensity to switch, because poor service is compounded by the ease at which they can switch supplier; comparison sites being just one catalyst of this trend.

The fact is that every marketer knows retention is a more cost effective approach than acquisition, yet few can translate this sentiment into a working, service-led approach to customer interactions.  But there are achievable steps that an organisation can take; empowering agents to better meet customer needs and expectations, ensuring information on individual customers is collected and made accessible to personalise interactions and improve their timing and relevance, and instilling a service focused culture into the wider organisation.
Crucially testing improvements to service, and learning from the outcome, on a smaller scale at first can help to facilitate larger scale change, without risking a shift change in service delivery which doesn’t deliver to either organisation or customer.  We’ve found a laboratory approach is especially useful as a tool to trial, refine and ultimately introduce both incremental and full scale changes to a service proposition.

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By Neil Davey
12th Oct 2009 13:16

Many thanks for your thoughts Chris. You make some very valid points.

I've been interested to hear the phrase "laboratory approach" used with increasing regularity recently - only a week or so ago I heard it used in reference to Social CRM.

It will be interesting to monitor its developing use in the customer services field.

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