Every year Pricewatch receives thousands of emails, letters, phone calls, tweets, Instagram and Facebook messages and random approaches in the street from people who have been let down by businesses big and small. While the companies and the stories differ, almost all the complaints can be condensed into one sentence.
“They didn’t listen to me and they didn’t help me.”
Almost inevitably, as soon as we make contact with a company, it starts to listen and starts to help. That is not because of any particular set of skills Pricewatch has but because businesses hate bad press, although many don’t hate it enough to actually implement long-term fixes that will stop their customers coming crying – sometimes literally – to us.
So large is the volume of correspondence, we often find ourselves asking: why is the customer experience in Ireland so bad?
CX is a company that has been focusing on the scale and the cause of the problem since 2015. Every year since then, it has published a Customer Experience report. Its most recent volume was published in the dead of winter, but it is worth revisiting as summer nears.
It points to sweeping changes caused by Covid-19 that have led to “a ‘reset’ or ‘going back to basics; with trust, care and reassurance being of utmost importance to customers” and it highlights “huge customer behaviour changes, with an upsurge in online usage”.
The report says that to manage the Covid change, companies need to show "massive commitment, collaboration, energy and passion" and it highlights how for some companies that commitment has already paid off.
The report suggests that Ireland’s customer experience score improved by 1.1 per cent in 2020 compared with a year earlier. Just under 70 per cent of brands in the survey saw their rating among customers climb in 2020 compared with only 10 per cent that saw a bounce in 2019.
CX says this is an “indication that the pandemic has moved customer experience from a boardroom discussion to front-line action”.
The Irish Credit Union and An Post are the only two brands to have maintained top 10 status since the survey started in 2015, with both firmly embedded in the community. They have, says CX, "demonstrated unstinting commitment to their customers during the pandemic. What sets them and the other top 10 brands apart from the rest is their relentless focus on customers and giving them the best experience possible".
The survey measures customer experience excellence through “emotional drivers”, and the one that saw the biggest increase last year was “I trust you”, suggesting that customers only want to deal with those “companies that have their best interests at heart, who are genuine, authentic and do what they say they are going to do”.
Conversely, the emotional driver that saw biggest decrease was “You get me” which, CX says “ is all about walking in your customer’s shoes. Being able to understand and empathise with each customer’s circumstances is even more important in these current times of stress, worry and change.”
As so much business moves online, the report stresses the importance of getting the balance right “between technology and the human touch”.
“There is no doubt that online plays a hugely vital and valuable role in customer experience but it is not enough on its own to deliver the emotional connections that are so important to us and our experiences. The most memorable experiences are the ones that engender the strongest emotions, which are sparked by interacting with others.”
The head of CX, Cathy Summers, takes us through some of the finer points of its assessment of customer experience in Ireland today.
“I think what makes company do well is the strong levels of trust between them and their customer, and that has become more important during Covid,” she says. “All the companies that have done well have been the ones that stayed open and had that emotional connection with their customers.”
She notes that supermarkets traditionally do quite well in the surveys her company carries out, but last year they “went above and beyond with sanitisation and managing social distances and keeping people safe. They exceeded expectations.” She also praises the credit union that had cash delivered to customer’s homes in local Garda cars.
The companies that have done well in recent months have been able to adapt and meet expectations, she says, “but that is not easy because expectations are always rising. If I have a good experience, then I expect it to be as good if not better the next time.”
She says the human touch – at least the figurative one – is “very important” now more than ever. “Online is a given today, but that human contact is where we get the connection with a company and where we tend to get the strongest bonds.”
She notes that a lot of companies “have pushed people online but haven’t provided the back-up if something goes wrong. I think too many companies don’t understand their customers and they don’t care about them. That is why they treat their new customers better than existing ones, who are sometimes treated like hostages because they are really nervous about switching. You see that with the insurance companies, banks and the telcos.”
Calling customers back, smiling at them in face-to-face interactions, saying hello, getting a package delivered sooner rather than later
She also says too many companies “overpromise and underdeliver. They don’t value their staff either. What they don’t see is that the most important employees are the ones on the front line. They train the life out of them when it comes to selling products but they don’t train them when it comes to customer experience and they don’t stress even the simple things like how do you say hello or show empathy or listen or put yourself in your customer’s shoes.”
She also highlights a lack of empowerment for front-line staff. “If your staff are not having a good experience from their managers, they can’t really be expected to five customers a good experience If you don’t have empathy and if you don’t like people, then you can’t give good customer care.”
She stresses that customer experience has to be driven by senior management. “It is as much about a mindset as anything else. You have to have the right culture and you have to have everyone working together. Too many companies are in silos, with each department having different objectives and targets.”
She repeatedly points to the simple things that make a big difference: “Calling customers back, smiling at them in face-to-face interactions, saying hello, getting a package delivered sooner rather than later.” She notes that too many companies fail to recognise the important of complaints.
“They are one of the most important pieces of information a company can have. Only one in nine people complain, and the rest just walk away, so if a customer is bothering to tell you what is wrong, then you have to listen, and if you are able to fix it, then they will become even more loyal and become advocates for the brand.”
GETTING IT RIGHT: THE TOP 10 FIRMS WITH THE BEST STAFF
The CX report ranked companies across a range of metrics including how staff affected the customer experience. Here are the top 10.
“There are numerous examples of how staff in these companies went the extra mile during Covid-19, checking up on customers to make sure they were safe, delivering items to customers who were cocooning and providing a reassuring presence in the community. Many staff took risks and put themselves on the line to help their customers.”
THE EXTRA MILE: THE TOP 15 BRANDS FOR EXCEEDING EXPECATIONS
CX also ranked companies that exceeded customers’ expectations. “Understanding, meeting and exceeding expectations is a constant challenge for companies because they never stay the same, they are always changing and, in many cases, rising.
Here are the 15 companies that had the highest scores for exceeding their customers’ expectations during the pandemic.
WHY CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE MAKES ECONOMIC SENSE
We shouldn’t have to say it but it makes sense to treat customers well. People who have a better experience with a business are 2.7 times more likely to keep giving their money to it, while companies that perform well have customers that are seven times more likely to purchase more, and eight times more likely to try other products or services. Not only that but 86 per cent of customers are willing to pay more for a positive customer experience.
If it is easier for customers to do business with a company it means they will make contact with it less, which has the potential to reduce costs by as much as 20 per cent. Companies that are focused on customer experience have employee satisfaction rates 1.5 times higher than others.
Sales are often driven by positive word-of-mouth rather than expensive sales and marketing campaigns
Someone who has had a good customer experience is worth 600-1,400 per cent more than a detractor over their lifetime with a company.
Customer-centric organisations are 60 per cent more profitable than companies that don’t focus on customers, while sales are often driven by positive word-of-mouth rather than expensive sales and marketing campaigns.
THE TOP 10
Irish credit unions – No change
Shaws – Up 26
An Post – Up 7
Specsavers – Up 2
Allcare – Up 31
McCauley – Up 32
M&S – Up 17
FBD – Up 17
Lidl – Up 25
Dunnes Retail – Up 60
AND THE CXi ASSESSMENT OF THE TOP FIVE
Irish Credit Unions: From great to extraordinary. Six in a row for Ireland's CX champions didn't come easy during the lockdown. Extraordinary focus from a group that consistently give a real damn about every single member's needs.
Shaws: No surprise that Shaws have finally been recognised for their CX Excellence delivery. Like the Credit Union and An Post, they are deeply embedded in their local communities on a first-name basis. Shaws human customer interactions are the most important part of the overall customer experience.
An Post An Post have been one of the most consistent CX champions globally by remaining in our top 10 for the sixth year running. From the get-go, An Post were out of their blocks with numerous pandemic initiatives, all of which were led by employees who really care.
Specsavers: Specsavers continues to invest in cutting edge technology, delivering a frictionless online experience right across the full customer journey. They have been ahead of the pack, allowing customers book appointments online as well as view latest offers and try on glasses virtually.
Allcare: While Allcare pharmacies have been growing their market share at pace, they never lost their focus on superior patient care. They found numerous ways to make it easier for patients to do business with them, particularly during Covid-19. Their success is not down to any one silver bullet but down to doing many things brilliantly.
THE BOTTOM OF THE PILE
Not surprisingly, given the challenges it encountered this year, Ryanair saw the biggest decrease in its overall customer experience score, according to CX, falling 28 per cent on 2019. The decline saw the airline hit the bottom of the league table. Aer Lingus also saw decreases in its score and ranking, dropping 55 places, from 48 to 103. The challenges customers encountered in cancellations and refunds was also evident, as the sector had the highest percentage of customers who felt the brands they dealt with failed to meet their expectations during the pandemic.
The communications sector also performed poorly, something that will not come as much of a surprise to regular readers.
"We are so dependent on connectivity in our personal and work lives, and this has become even more important during Covid-19 as many of us are working from home and are distanced from our friends and family," the report says. "Many of the 14 brands in this sector have failed to cope with customer demands, with only Tesco Mobile making it into the top 100, coming in at 83. Despite a number of well-known brands such as WhatsApp, Zoom, Instagram and Twitter being included in the survey for the first time, all of them failed to make the top 100.
Tesco Mobile and Virgin Media are the only brands in the sector to improve their overall CX score, while Three, Sky and Eir saw significant drops in their overall customer experience scores. Eir saw its score drop by more than 11 per cent, leaving it just above Ryanair at the bottom of the table.