By Ben Simmons

Just 1 in 3 UK businesses believe that customer service will help them stand out from their competitor and pursue growth in the current climate — a minute proportion compared to businesses from the likes Spain and Italy, of which 84% and 77% recognise the importance of good customer service.

In spite of this, two thirds of UK businesses believe that customer acquisition is the only realistic growth strategy in the current climate. What’s more, many UK companies do not have the systems in place to support a customer-orientated strategy, with 70% of respondents admitting that they do not have a very sophisticated and up-to-date customer database.

“Companies still aren’t placing enough emphasis on customer service, despite the fact it’s a key driver of growth in today’s climate” says Neil Colquhoun, Director, Epson UK. “UK owners and managers are currently only spending 29% of their working week in front of customers, which simply isn’t enough if they’re looking to expand and offer the support many customers demand.”

Maintaining a record of customer data was also an issue the research highlighted, with 70% of UK businesses reporting that it would be a considerable or massive effort to keep an excellent database of customer information during the next year. Companies in countries throughout Europe, however, are capitalising on new technology to aid their customer engagement — 75% of businesses consider modern IT equipment as vitally important in helping in this area. Again, the UK is lagging behind significantly, with less than half (49%) believing technology to be important in this effort.

“Customer engagement and levels of satisfaction are absolutely vital in today's economy,” says Sara Murray, entrepreneur and founder of and personal emergency response service “No product or service will likely succeed if the intended recipient is not factored into planning and development stages from the start, so UK businesses in particular should look to address this as a matter of urgency.”

According to Phil McCabe, senior policy adviser at the Forum of Private Business: “customer engagement and customer service are vital to maintaining the position of Britain as a centre of excellence for business and this is often how small firms can better their larger competitors. In the year of the Olympics, when many British businesses will be presenting our public face to the globe, it’s important that leaders from the small business community are prioritising this in the year ahead and not leaving it as an afterthought.”

Epson’s Neil Colquhoun concludes: “2012 will be an incredibly competitive year for small businesses, and they should look to all resources available to help support their existing and potential customers and drive growth.”

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