UK plc forced into service

Here's one downturn plus point: UK companies are being forced to sort out their customer service...

Last Updated: 06 Nov 2012

A new study by the Institute of Customer Service has surprisingly found that satisfaction levels among British consumers are higher now than they were last year – and the ICS reckons it’s because companies are being forced to work harder to hang on to their customers. As the downturn bites, companies find themselves in a battle for dwindling custom – and they’re trying to improve their service to help themselves stand out from the crowd. If this recession can rid us of the bored, uninterested sales assistant for good, at least it has something to commend it…

The ICS Index asked 24,000 people to rate customer service across 12 public and private sector industries, from automotive to utilities, scoring companies out of 100. And the good news is that standards seem to be rising: the average satisfaction level inched up from 71 last year to 72 this year, and the vast majority think things will only get better this year. Retail was the best-performing sector, with John Lewis taking the overall crown after racking up an impressive satisfaction score of 88 (Waitrose was in fourth place with 85).

One interesting titbit from the survey was that customers are happier than ever with the service they get from financial service companies – unlike their stock- and bond-holders, presumably. Both banks and insurers improved their average showing – and ICS director Robert Crawford reckons it’s no surprise: 'The financial pressures and media reaction to the economic downturn will surely have put pressure on financial institutions to look after their customers better than ever,’ he said.

Of course, there’s still plenty of room for improvement. ICS reckons the benchmark score should be 80, but just 26 companies managed to hit this level. And some sectors in particular still have a lot of work to do – bottom of the pile was local government (what do you mean, you don’t believe it?), despite the best efforts of the Fire and Ambulance Services, who both came near the top. The survey claims that British customer service is now the best in the world, with the US a distant second – but on the basis of our experience, we think that’s very much the wrong way round…

The good news is that we can help to improve service levels – by behaving more stroppily. ‘As consumers we also need to get better at complaining, which is the best way to spur providers on to make even greater efforts,’ says Crawford. So next time your service isn’t up to scratch, make sure you kick up a fuss with the offending organisation. It’s for their own good...

In today's bulletin:

Banks bailed out again as RBS faces £28bn loss
Rightmove hints at housing market recovery
Big beast Clarke back in Business
Tough break for KPMG staff
UK plc forced into service

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