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By Jo Causon, CEO, The Institute of Customer Service

The events of the past year have shaken the customer experience landscape – perhaps forever. As the long-term economic and societal impacts of the pandemic continue to take shape, organisations will need to maintain a clear focus on all dimensions of their customer experience – taking stock of what they have learnt throughout the pandemic and using it to redefine their offering.

The results of our latest UK Customer Satisfaction Index (UKCSI), published on 7 July 2021, revealed the number of customers experiencing service issues with organisations has risen to its highest level since 2009.

While overall customer satisfaction has seen a marginal increase of 0.6 points year on year, it is evident that much of this is driven by businesses making improvements to complaint handling, rather than addressing the root cause of customer service issues.

Customers are reporting various issues, ranging from reliability and quality of goods and services to slow service. Of course, some of these problems stem from the impact of Covid, Brexit and even the Ever Given’s blockage of the Suez Canal in March.

Throughout the pandemic, a number of companies responded admirably, adapting and expanding their service offering to suit the changing needs and attitudes of their customers. However, the crisis has also exposed deep-rooted issues which were present long before the pandemic hit, with many struggling to adapt to a world in flux. And our findings show a quarter of customers claim that organisations have used Covid as an excuse for poor service.

There is no doubt that the crisis has had a profound effect on customers’ behaviours and attitudes. The results reveal consumers have been reluctant to spend on big ticket items, with a number far more careful with their cash than previously. Yet, the number of consumers willing to pay more for better customer service has risen to 31.6% – the highest level since 2018 and over double those prepared to sacrifice service to get the cheapest price.

Customer behaviours have changed dramatically, and in many cases these shifts are likely to stay around for the long term. If we are to recover from the pandemic, organisations need to attune themselves to the changing needs of their customer base and adapt their offering accordingly.

Those organisations that are smart and agile in harnessing technology to enable fast, efficient transactional service and access to critical information and advice, will surely prosper with our survey showing many customers calling for significant improvements to organisations’ digital offerings. However, we mustn’t forget the importance of channel choice, and organisations need to provide customers with a range of options for how they can interact, based on their specific issue or need.

The past year has also highlighted the rich potential for virtual technologies to enable innovative new ways of experiencing services and content.’ but we know that a blended approach is essential an appropriate mix of human and tech to ensure the right outcome for the customer and choice in how they can interact is paramount.
The key is also establishing trust with consumers. Businesses need to be honest with customers right from the offset, especially when looking at a particular product and whether there may be any potential delays, so they are aware of how long they might have to wait to inform their decision about what to buy.

Customer service is intrinsically linked to strong business performance. For the UK economy to move forward as a true service leader, maintaining and building excellent customer service levels will be crucial to pulling the nation towards recovery.

Jo joined The Institute as its CEO in 2009. She has driven membership growth by 150 percent and established the UK Customer Satisfaction Index as the country’s premier indicator of consumer satisfaction, providing organisations with an indicator of the return on their service strategy investment.

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