By Max Clarke

The UK's utilities and personal finance companies are failing to meet consumer demand for personal communication according to research from enterprise software provider Thunderhead.

The research, carried out via YouGov amongst more than 6,000 consumers, reveals widespread dissatisfaction with the relevance of the communications they receive from service providers.

Examining service providers' customer engagement, the YouGov research revealed 62% of utility consumers felt providers failed to consistently recognise their specific preferences, were inflexible in the way they sent information and unwilling to meet their general needs. Although the dissatisfaction is a cross-sector theme, some sectors are doing much better than others. For instance whilst 49% of mobile operator customers think the marketing materials they receive are ill targeted, the figure rockets to 72% for cable customers.

The research also revealed significant demand for flexibility in the frequency of customer communications and for alternative channels of communication (e.g. email, SMS and smartphone app). Once again, service providers appear to be failing to fully address the opportunity - 54% of research respondents would prefer to receive important account alerts via email and yet it happens for only 30%. The difference is likely to be accounted for by the apparent lack of intelligence gathering. Only 32% of respondents could recall being asked which communications channel they prefer and just 16% recalled being asked for frequency preferences.

Glen Manchester, Thunderhead CEO, believes that, though it is easy to criticise service providers, the issues are more complex:

"The companies operating in the sectors we surveyed all operate in highly competitive environments and the relationships they have with customers are increasingly complex. Added to that is a legacy of document management and communications platforms originally designed for print output, and growing regulatory and compliance requirements. Multi-channel, personalised interactions don't sit easily in that environment without a fundamental change in the nature of the support systems. Those systems need to automatically track both customer preferences and history and allow for efficient, personalised communications in print and digital formats."

The competitive advantage available to companies that do make the changes is equally obvious from the YouGov research. Unsurprisingly, 73% of research respondents who expressed an opinion said perceptions of their service provider would be likely to improve if the provider showed awareness of matters relating to their account and referenced them in correspondence. Equally, 31% would be likely to recommend the provider in question if their own dialogue with that company made them feel they were being treated as an individual.

Manchester continued: "The capacity for intelligent, informed and individual communications is a powerful differentiator in competitive markets. Knowing, for instance, that a well-placed apology is enough to win back 62% of our research group after a negative experience is useful but only if you can identify the customer and their history, and you know how to communicate with them quickly."