UK retailers ignoring customer enquiries - Businessman Plugging His Ears
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Retailers ignoring 42% of customer enquiries - report

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New research reveals that almost half of all customer queries are left unanswered - with only 13% answered in full and in a timely fashion.

7th Oct 2022

Customer listening may be one of the tenets of CX, but few retailers are buying into it, according to the shocking findings of a new report. 

Research conducted by customer engagement platform CM.com analysed the customer service practices of the UK’s top 25 retail brands to find that almost half (42%) of all enquiries are being ignored or left unanswered. It also found that just 13% answered in full and in a timely fashion.

Of the brands included in the report, Next, M&S, and B&Q led the way when it came to the number of communication channels available to consumers, with eight or more customer service channels provided. These brands were also able to respond to queries more efficiently and effectively than those with less channels available.

Overall, the study found that just 8% of the retailers analysed offered customer service support via a human agent 24 hours a day.

Emphasising just how damaging this poor service performance can be for these brands, the same research report found a clear correlation between customer service levels and profit, with the top 10 retail brands for customer service reporting an annual turnover of £7.2bn more than the average turnover of those brands ranked in the bottom 10.

In addition to ranking the individual brands, the report split the findings into sub-categories within the retail sector – revealing clear trends.

Overall, ecommerce companies lead the way for responsiveness to customer queries, in addition to boasting the second most customer service channels with an average of 6.5, compared to groceries and home and electronics brands, both with 6.1.

However, across all the retail companies in the study, apparel brands comfortably topped the customer service channels section, averaging 7.3 per brand.

The most troubling sub-sector in the report was home and electronics, with more enquiries left unanswered and communication lines open for shorter periods of time compared to retail brands in other categories.

The nitty gritty

The decision on which brands to include within the report was based on annual turnover figures from Retail Economics for the 2020/2021 financial year.

Common customer enquiries were then posed to the 25 brands, through the following communication channels (where available): website, telephone, email, online contact form, chatbot, call back, voice bot, live chat, Facebook messenger, WhatsApp, Twitter, Instagram.

The questions ranged from simple FAQs such as, ‘how can I make a complaint?’; to more specific queries including, ‘how can I return an item?’.

Brands were then ranked in accordance with metrics pertaining to responsiveness and effectiveness, with companies scored based on their reply times, along with the quality of the response provided – i.e. whether the questions were answered fully, partially, or not at all.

The vicious cycle

This latest report comes as another blow to an already suffering sector. With inflation on the rise and the Bank of England warning of a recession by the end of the year, on top of the current cost-of-living crisis, customer service levels appear to be plummeting across the board.

It is the former of these three factors that many consumers believe has led to the perceived slump in the standard of customer service, with the notion of ‘skimpflation’ – a phenomenon whereby inflationary pressures and squeezed profit margins force firms to cut corners – being blamed for a worsening in customer service levels.

Failing to invest in your people can be damaging to business finances in the long-run.

This is particularly problematic when considered alongside the cost-of-living crisis, where consumers are desperate to save money wherever possible – resulting in the weakening of customer loyalty.

So how can brands break this vicious cycle?

Jane Rexworthy, executive director at People 1st International, argues that organisations need to avoid the temptation to cost-cut employee training and development during these financially insecure times.

“Failing to invest in your people can be damaging to business finances in the long-run. What UK consumers value the most are well-trained, knowledgeable and happy staff. With that in mind, I urge consumer-facing businesses to continue to invest in their people and carefully consider the impact of any potential cutbacks on the customer experience.”

Rexworthy’s views on prioritising the customer experience are shared by CM.com’s Country Manager for the UK & Ireland, James Matthews, who argues:

“While the study has revealed gaps and discrepancies in customer service across the retail sector, it also highlights considerable opportunities for brands that are proactive at putting measures in place to ensure they are delivering positive experiences.”

 

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