Better at complaining . . . worse at switching

Research reveals that while satisfaction with products and services has increased, we are less willing to switch utility provider or retailer


Are you getting better at giving out? Have you tired of leaping from one gas or phone company to the next in order to save a few bob?And do you pay any heed to the moaning of your mates on Facebook? These are just some of the questions – admittedly paraphrased by Pricewatch – that were asked of thousands of people in (still wealthy) countries (and Ireland) in recent weeks in order to paint a picture of consumers today.

The Irish picture, which has been painted by Accenture, seems to be a pretty accurate reflection of where we are. We complain more than ever and care more about the quality of care we are offered but switching fatigue has set in as we head towards the sixth year of this recession without apparent end.

According to the research which The Irish Times has been given first glimpse at, the numbers switching utility provider or retailer has fallen sharply over the last 12 months and just 46 per cent of those polled are still shopping around compared to 78 per cent 12 months ago.

That is not to say we have gone back to our bad old ways of throwing money we thought we had at products and services that we thought we needed and 77 per cent of us are evaluating companies more carefully than we did two years ago before we part with our cash.

The survey included responses from more than 12,000 people in 32 countries, including 314 in Ireland. They were all asked to assess their experiences with companies working in travel and tourism, life insurance, consumer goods retailers, consumer electronics manufacturers, retail banking, internet service providers, cable/satellite, landline phone, wireless phone and gas/electric utilities.

Our satisfaction with products and service providers has increased in the last 12 months and now 36 per cent say that the service they are getting is good enough compared with just 28 per cent a year ago. Before the companies who hope to make money from us get the bunting out, however, it is worth noting that 64 per cent of us are still not best pleased with the service being offered.

Price has stopped being the key driver for Irish consumers and now “being easy to do business with” at 32 per cent is the core driver of satisfaction, ahead of “competitive pricing” which is on 29 per cent and quality which stands at 51 per cent, up 12 points on a year earlier.

Switch hassle
When it comes to poor customer service, Ireland is now the most likely country of those covered by the survey where you will hear people giving out. The study reports that 92 per cent of people who have been displeased will share their negative experience with others. And they aren’t afraid to take action on foot of unsatisfactory service either. A quarter of Irish consumers post their negative experiences online while a slightly smaller number say they are influenced by the online moans of their friends.

The refrain that switching provider is too much hassle is growing increasingly faint and a majority of consumers surveyed said they did not consider switching providers too much trouble. Nearly one in four has switched retailers in the past 12 months, followed by Banks and Internet Service Providers on 17 per cent each. For Irish customers who switch due to poor service, price remains the main factor for selecting a new provider with 71 per cent ticking that box. Other factors have grown in importance with customer service going up seven points to 58 per cent and the quality of the product itself going up to 51 per cent, an increase of 12 per cent in a year.

“Over the last few years, organisations in Ireland have been forced by consumers to focus on the price agenda, to the detriment of other important business drivers such as customer service and satisfaction” says Rebecca Gilmore of Accenture Ireland. “As we reach a plateau on the price wars, some organisations have turned their attention to other important differentiators, like the customer experience, so that we’re now starting to see some cut-through in satisfaction levels.”

She says the study shows that Irish consumers “have no compunction in taking their hard earned cash elsewhere and Irish companies need to work harder on impressing and retaining the customers they have.”

Two thirds of us will frequently search online for information about companies and offerings but only a third use social media sites in this context while 29 per cent of people trust comments by people known to them, compared with 10 per cent by people they don’t know. “Technology is amplifying the customer service experience of the changing Irish consumer” says Gilmore, “it’s not surprising that as technology becomes a bigger and more integrated part of our everyday lives, it is also positively impacting the customer experience and this presents a major opportunity for Irish companies to give consumers what they want, while controlling their cost base.”

Word-of-mouth continues to be the most popular – and most powerful – channel when it comes to marketing products and services to Irish consumers with the vast majority or 86 per cent of those polled saying they rely on word-of-mouth to learn about products and services and it’s also the most important source when deciding to do business with a company and 68 per cent said it impacted on their decisions.

Employees who are knowledgeable and well informed are considered the most important dimension of customer service to consumers with 93 per cent saying it mattered. Companies appear not to have grasped the importance of training their staff as only 49 per cent of respondents said they were actually satisfied with the levels of knowledge employees have. The other major gaps between importance and dissatisfaction are linked to wait times and time to resolve an issue.

Biggest source of frustration
Having to repeat the same information to multiple agents is the biggest single source of frustration in the customer service experience according to 91 percent of respondents. This is followed closely by unfriendly or impolite service and being put on hold for a long time. Nearly half of Irish consumers have asked to speak to a supervisor in instances of negative customer service.

Loyalty to providers has only marginally increased year-on-year from 41 per cent to 42 per cent. And while Irish people are very willing to talk about their negative experience only 22 per cent say they would recommend their service providers to others.

Retailers lead the way when it comes to loyalty programmes, with 81 per cent joining at least one loyalty club – and over half of these were actually persuaded to stay with their provider because of a loyalty programme.

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