Image: Mike Seyfang Image: Mike Seyfang

The latest Customer Satisfaction Index from the UK Institute of Customer Service is out. Larry Augustin, CEO, SugarCRM, asks "which industries and organisations were the heroes and villains? And what can those in less favourable positions learn from those enjoying the view from the top?

It’s that time of year again: the release of the UK Institute of Customer Service (UKICS) Customer Satisfaction Index. The report surveyed a representative sample of 10,000 customers in the UK from July – December 2016 to draw conclusions and glean insight into how 13 key industries – including banking, insurance and retail – compare to one another for customer satisfaction and service. I always find it interesting to see how industries have improved (or not) over the past 6-12 months; which are sitting pretty at the top of the pile – and which are languishing at the bottom. It may surprise some people to learn that, in the post-Brexit months, overall customer satisfaction was 77.8 points, an increase of 0.8 points compared to a year ago. Against the backdrop of fluctuating levels of customer confidence, it was an intriguing six months for the nation. So, which industries and organisations were the heroes and villains? And what can those in less favourable positions learn from those enjoying the view from the top?

Amazon leading the way for others to follow

Reigning supreme as the industry with the most satisfied customers was retail, with a score of 82.5 and 81.3 for ‘non-food and ‘food’ respectively. And, once again, Amazon came number one for the organisation offering the highest level of customer satisfaction. It is a feat to be applauded that Amazon’s extraordinary growth, and pioneering role in technology and products which have transformed customers’ everyday lives, hasn’t been to the detriment of the customer service it offers.

To strike the right balance between innovating, and at the same time maintaining a high level of customer experience, is the holy grail all organisations should be aiming for. The organisations ranked the highest for customer satisfaction also scored highly for the way they handle complaints – proof that the customer experience directly impacts how people rate businesses. With ASOS, John Lewis and Waitrose also featured in the top five organisations, it’s clear retailers are working hard to fulfil the needs of their customers – and are being rewarded for their efforts.

Elsewhere, the unenviable position of ‘last place’ fell to the telecommunications industry – despite increasing its overall customer satisfaction by one point compared to a year ago. The industry is notorious for the challenges it faces when it comes to customer service; EE was recently fined £2.7 million for overcharging customers. To counteract this, telcos should pay attention to the clear directive from the ICS report that businesses need to evaluate and improve all aspects of customer service, if they are to stand a chance of improving satisfaction levels.

Banks continue to improve customer satisfaction

If I was handing out an award for ‘most improved’, I would surely dust off the trophy for the banking and building societies industry. With an overall customer satisfaction score of 79.5 points, banks have improved their position compared to the previous two reports. Of note are Nationwide and First Direct, which also appeared in the top ten list of organisations for customer satisfaction.

This is especially positive to see when considering how, perhaps more than any other industry, the acceleration of digital innovation has fundamentally altered the banking industry over the past decade. Data from the British Banking Association recently revealed that customer bank branch interactions declined from 476 million in 2011 to 278 million in 2016, as the use of banking apps increased from 7 million log-ins a day in 2014, to 11 million in 2015. It’s encouraging to see banks’ commitment to customer satisfaction is still a focus. Indeed, banking ranked above other essential industries including insurance and utilities (placed 6th and 12th, respectively).

What is imperative to banking in particular is offering a customer experience which recognises the needs of tech-savvy customers, with the personal nature of finance which often requires a human service. People still like to talk to people. A Vanson Bourne report found that 91 per cent of respondents agree that there should always be a way to contact a real person. There is only so much help or reassurance a mobile app can offer; people still want to be able to discuss issues with a human being who can offer advice. This means that banks need to consider the service they offer at every touchpoint, whether on the phone, an in-branch visit or via an app.

What lessons can be learnt?

The report reveals there is a clear correlation between complaint handling and over the phone experiences, and customer satisfaction. Indeed, the biggest differentiator between the top 50 organisations and the other 180 organisations in the UKCSI came down to the quality of their service in this area, from the ‘speed of resolving the complaint’, to ‘staff understanding the issue’, to ‘the attitude of staff’.

According to the ICS, customers highlighted the following factors as key to their experience with the top 50 organisations: efficiency and speed; reliability; professional and friendly employees; and a sense of how the overall experience made them feel towards the organisation (and its employees). This is a clear message that organisations must invest in the customer relationship management technology that can support, enable and empower employees to offer a seamless, informed front-end customer experience.

As customers, we’re happy when we feel the employee we’re speaking to – whether on the phone, over email or in-branch – understands our problem and has a clear view of our past interactions with the organisation. These factors combined make us feel valued and important.

Customer experience is fast becoming the benchmark when it comes to people deciding who they’ll shop, bank or book their holiday with; with Gartner predicting that 89 per cent of organisations now expect to compete solely on the experience they can offer. It’s an area too important for businesses to neglect and there is a real risk to the bottom line for those which don’t invest; an Accenture study found that 52 per cent of consumers have stopped using businesses due to poor digital customer service.

The measures of a superior customer experience, per Forrester, are ease, effectiveness, and emotion. In my view, investing in Customer Relationship Management (CRM) technology can help deliver that easy, effective and enjoyable customer experience. I’m looking forward to seeing which organisations respond to the challenge, invest in their customer experiences, and climb the table in the next report.

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