By Claire West

World-beating customer service is thriving in the UK – giving confidence to companies to look beyond the recession, according to groundbreaking new research.

More than 46% of consumers think Britain is best for how well we are treated, surging ahead of the US on 25.5%, says the Institute of Customer Service. Germany is a long way behind in third on 7.9% and other major European tourist destinations — France, Spain, Italy and Greece — all scored poorly.

Despite difficult trading conditions, almost 40 organisations or professions achieved a customer satisfaction score of 80% or above – the benchmark for world class customer satisfaction.

The study of 25,000 people revealed John Lewis is the best individual organisation and the first to top 90% in the ratings. Other top performers include the Fire and Ambulance Services, Waitrose, M&S, Mazda and the RAC.

Jo Causon, the Institute’s chief executive, said: “This is an exceptional result for those 37 organisations from a wide variety of sectors, which achieved above 80 per cent – the benchmark for world-class customer satisfaction.”

Overall, the UK achieved an average rating of 74% in the Institute’s UK Customer Satisfaction Index (UKCSI), up from 72 in the previous study six months ago.

Jo Causon said: “The results show organisations are trying really hard to keep consumers satisfied, but we realise from the wide range of scores across the sectors that there is no room for complacency.”

Even the much-maligned banking sector performs better, with more people content with the attention they receive in branches and on the phone — showing they are not inclined to blame ‘frontline troops’ for recent economic woes.

It is those who take customer service seriously that are reaping the rewards and will continue to do so beyond the current economic gloom, says the Institute.

The UKCSI allows consumers to rate service across 13 public, private and third sectors – covering professionalism, quality and efficiency, ease of doing business, problem solving and timeliness.

Jo Causon said: [i]“Striving to offer world-class customer service gives your business the best chance of getting out of the recession sooner — and stronger. Putting customers at the heart of your business improves employee performance, which increases corporate performance and makes organisations more competitive.

“We know individuals and businesses have less money to spend and are more careful where they spend it. Research shows that taking customer service seriously can produce 24% more profit. Even a 5% jump in customer loyalty can boost profits by between 25 and 85%.”

Tourism is now Britain’s best sector for keeping customers content, with fish and chip shops and pubs also seeing a resurgence in customer satisfaction.

Utilities props up the table as the worst performing sector, with an overall UKCSI score of 66, with national Public Services and Telecoms also with work to do.

Jo Causon said: “Utilities and Telecoms have made improvements in all five key areas of performance but national Public Services have not increased customer satisfaction since our previous study. We recognise that there is more work to be done and these sectors need to focus on meeting the needs of their customers more.”

At a time when many consumers feel the need to tighten their belts, Utilities was the sector with the highest proportion (22%) of customers changing their supplier. There was however a notable improvement in complaint handling in the sector, which rose to 63% overall.

Other key points to emerge from the Index include:

• The top performing sector is UK tourism.

• There has been a resurgence in popularity of fish-and-chip shops.

• Overall, women are happier with the service they receive than men.

• Local pubs, despite trade being hit by recession, have increased their popularity rating.

• Local plumbers come out top of small businesses, beating hairdressers, travel agents and shoe repairers/key-cutters.

• Utilities was the worst performing sector with an overall UKCSI score of 66.1, bettered by Public Services (national) on 70 and Telecoms on 70.1.

Top 10 success stories:

• John Lewis (90.9)
• Fire Service (89.8)
• Waitrose (87.1)
• M&S – food (87.0)
• Ambulance Service (86.4)
• Mazda (86.2)
• RAC (86)
• M&S — non-food (84.5)
• P&O Ferries (83.9)
• Center Parcs (83.8)

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