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Pricewatch: The main reason some brands are successful at customer experience excellence is that they are part of our communities in a way others are not

It is hardly surprising that RTÉ's fall from grace dominated headlines again last week when the annual customer experience report from the CX Company was published.

The ninth edition of the survey saw the national broadcaster finish last out of 150 well-known brands with its overall customer experience score falling by 17 per cent and its trust levels down by 25 per cent, as anger over its lack of transparency and corporate mismanagement remained front and centre in people’s minds.

There was, however, a lot more to the research than RTÉ's problems. The CX company’s chief executive and author of the report, Cathy Summers, points to the subtleties to be found in the survey.

“We’ve seen an overall improvement, but talking to companies, there is still challenges getting traction for customer experience within large corporates,” she says. “They see the value, but I think where it becomes difficult is for them being able to measure the impact on their business performance where the customer experience is actually tied to hard business metrics, like retention.”


She says that for large organisations, there’s often “other priorities, or the priorities are ‘we just need to make more money’, and they look at other avenues to do that. So sometimes people might see customer experience as the fluffy stuff, as opposed to being able to deliver.”

She stresses that good customer experience will deliver, and points to the credit unions which, she says, will ultimately reap the rewards for their customer-first focus.

The credit union movement really has become the poster child for customer care, finishing in first place in the survey. Again.

Not only did it retain its table-topping position for an unprecedented ninth year in a row, it also widened the gap between it and its closest rivals.

So what are the credit unions doing so right? According to Summers, the main reason they are so successful at delivering customer experience excellence on a consistent basis is because they are part of our communities in a way that other brands are not.

They are more focused on implementing changes that work for their customers, rather than just driving change to make their organisation more efficient. In other words, they spend money on making things better for us rather than spending it to make things better for themselves.

“Credit unions have embraced digital which obviously is a key channel,” she says. “While other financial institutions did that purely to save money, the credit unions have done it to help customers, and they’ve still got the same level of support in terms of humans there to help people if they can’t use the technology – and that makes a big, big difference.”

Many credit unions are preparing to enter the mortgage market, and are likely to do well when they do, suggests Summers. “Drawing down a mortgage for a new home is a highly emotive purchase, and credit unions have been very good at recognising the importance of that.”

Other sectors are also “going gangbusters” when it comes to customer experience. Pharmacies continue to lead from the front, making up three of the top 10 companies – with Allcare coming in second place, Life Pharmacy sixth and Hickey’s, eighth.

Technology retailer Power City, which recorded the second highest score for the positive impact of their staff, made it into the top 10 for the first time this year, claiming third position, while Smyths toystores and Specsavers opticians rounded out the top five.

Laya Healthcare were in sixth, M&S Simply Food were ninth and Dunnes Store finished in tenth place. All 10 have all been among the top performers in past surveys.

Summers says the fallout from the RTÉ's scandal shows why trust is the most important element of customer experience. “Trust is at the heart of every customer interaction, and without trust there is no customer relationship. It is built up over time and should never be taken for granted. It’s not just about the Ryan Tubridy issue either – major scandals can often have a knock-on effect.

“Other respondents referenced the regular [broadcasting] of repeat [shows], issues with the RTÉ Player which is streets behind other providers and poor-quality programming. So RTÉ will have to rebuild trust by being open and transparent and then being very clear about who they are, what they stand for, and how they are going to manage themselves going forward.”

She notes that “these things can be turned around. In 2021, the Passport Service fell from a Top 20 position to 87th. Just 18 months ago, RTÉ was reporting how the Passport Service found itself “at the centre of a perfect storm” post-Covid and post-Brexit. This year it improved its score by more than 16 per cent and was the biggest jumper on the table, moving from 86th to 18th slot.

“In 2021 the passport office had a terrible year, but then they had a great year. They would have always been really good, they would have been in the top 20, and they were the leading public sector brand – but they then had an awful Covid [experience] and had huge problems around delivery and staffing levels and they weren’t open for a while, but they’ve got back on track. They’ve got that balance between the digital working really well, but having the human backup.”

Aer Lingus also took off this year, jumping 58 places from 99th to 41st, while Ryanair is languishing close to the bottom of the table.

Ryanair finished in 144th place, with the authors saying its focus is much more on managing costs – which does benefit the customer – rather than improving passenger’s experience. However, feedback in the survey highlights terrible customer service, difficulties in getting compensation and refunds for delays and cancelled flights, rising prices, and rude staff.

For what it’s worth, Pricewatch still gets more complaints about Aer Lingus than Ryanair. Summers seems surprised by this, but suggests that this might be because Ryanair “manages expectations very well, so you know you’re only going to get a basic experience – but because you’ve only paid a certain amount then you know it’s fine and that’s where the value comes in. Our expectations of Aer Lingus would be higher just from their positioning; even though they still position themselves as a cheap flights airline, just because they were the national carrier, the experience was very different.”

There was good news for our friends at eir, whose customer service score improved by 22.2 per cent, the highest jump recorded this year. The daa – the authority which manages Cork and Dublin’s airports – also did well, with a jump of 17.1 per cent.

However, the star performer in the travel category was Shannon Airport, which achieved a hugely impressive ranking of 20 on its first year in the survey.

The financial sector was the most improved sector this year, moving up three places to third out of 11 sectors. The authors say part of the reason for this is the excellent performance of the credit unions, relatively strong performances from An Post Money, Permanent TSB, the EBS and Revolut, and the departure of historically poor performers Ulster Bank and KBC. While AIB saw its score improve, the bank remains the back marker of the category, at 117th.

While it may have been anticipated that energy companies would face a backlash due to the dramatic rise in electricity costs, their fall – by 10 places on average – wasn’t as much as anticipated. The exception was Energia. The company has been the biggest faller over the last three years, falling 64 places from 69th to 133rd.

Generally speaking, public sector organisations performed poorly, with the sector coming second last of 11 categories. The HSE finished in joint 138th alongside the NCT, and one place behind An Garda Síochána.

The NCT’s difficulties were attributed to unavailability of tests, backlogs and long delays as the most common issues cited, but respondents also complained about poor customer service and rude staff.

“NCT needs to review its booking and communication process from a customer perspective and to consider innovative ways of dealing with the backlogs which have mounted up. They are another organisation which needs to rebuild trust with customers” Summers says.

Customer anger and frustration was also front and centre when it came to Ticketmaster, which recorded the second biggest drop in CX scores this year after RTÉ, with a fall of 11 per cent. It was in 147th place.

Customers need to know when to expect their items and to be able to speak to someone who can solve problems quickly if they arise

—  Author of CX Company report, Cathy Summers, on delivery companies

Summers says the issues which people encountered trying to purchase tickets for concerts, notably Taylor Swift and Coldplay, included a website which crashed often, high ticket prices, a queuing process which is difficult to navigate, high service charges and very poor customer service.

“Trying to buy tickets with Ticketmaster is extremely frustrating for customers and demonstrates a large gap between what they expect it should be – simple, quick and easy – and the reality, which is people left hanging online for ages not even knowing if there are tickets available. While RTÉ at least has competition, the same cannot be said for Ticketmaster, which operates a monopoly. Until that changes you have to wonder how much they really care about customers’ experience.”

While Pricewatch is not an apologist for Ticketmaster (and was indeed one of the many thousands of people left endlessly frustrated trying to buy Taylor Swift tickets during the cruel summer just past), we should point out – for the sake of fairness – that it does not set ticket prices.

The high cost of the tickets can be blamed on Taylor Swift and Coldplay’s teams. Ticketmaster would also push back very strongly on any suggestion that it is a monopoly, and has made the point on many occasions that it is not stopping anyone else from entering the ticket-selling game.

The sector with the highest number of organisations seeing their scores decline was logistics and delivery. The category fell four places, the biggest drop of any sector, with delivery companies such as Fastway, Amazon, DHL and Just Eat all dropping their scores. The latter was the joint highest faller this year, tumbling 68 places from 60th to 128th.

Survey responses indicated that there are issues with unreliable deliveries, missed deliveries, care of the items being delivered, not being able to get to speak to a person about issues with deliveries, timings of deliveries, incorrect orders and again, rude staff.

Summers says this is a highly challenging sector to be in and one where customers’ expectations are very high. “The key area which all delivery companies need to address is communications around the delivery. Customers need to know when to expect their items and to be able to speak to someone who can solve problems quickly if they arise.”

In addition to the customer experience chart, the CX Company report also looks at trends present and future. One of the key trends emerging this year has – obviously – been the impact of the cost-of-living crisis on customers and the way companies are responding to that.

Michael Killeen, chair of the CX Company, said that, in this more cost-conscious environment, customers are much more focused on value.

“Value is not what customers pay, it’s what they get, and the experience given to a customer is part of this. Organisations need to think carefully about how they can deliver tangible value to customers as part of their wider CX programme.”

He pointed to the “increasing prominence of loyalty schemes, particularly in the supermarket and retail categories. Customers don’t want to wait to build up value, they want to see it straight away.”

The research also looks at trends which might materialise over the next 12 months and suggests that rudeness, disrespect or insensitive behaviour is on the rise.

“Recent research in the US revealed that 78 per cent of customer-facing staff believe that bad behaviour from customers toward employees is more common than it was five years ago. Bottles being thrown at concerts, phones being used in cinemas, increased shouting at store staff when there is an issue, demonstrate this trend of micro-aggression,” the report says.

“The drivers for this state of frustration are a combination of post-traumatic disorder from Covid-19 and a rapid re-entry into socialising that has left many agitated.”

The report also says the experience employees have with companies and how they are treated by management will continue to shape how customers are subsequently treated in 2024.

It also points to ever-increasing flows of information, and says 24-hour digital connection and wearables are ensuring our off-time from information is reducing.

“As a collective, calm spaces and the ability to reflect, pause and be still will move from self-care to a necessity. Brands that build this into their customer experience strategy will see growth. Be gentler and more empathetic with customers across all channels; think about tone of voice and frequency of contact.”

The rapid rebound of the travel sector is one indicator of consumers’ hunger to see and do more. We want to live in a big way and are open to finding new companies to do that with

—  CX Company customer experience report

It says a shift from the keyboard or screen to voice, reflected with the rise of smart speakers, voice assistant and voice commands, will go up a gear in 2024 with the arrival of “voice” economics. “Voice-driven online shopping, searching and selecting will begin to come online, and voice orders will represent an increasing volume of sales. This is a global shift; in the US there is an estimated 123.5 million people using voice assistants such as Siri or Alexa, while in India the increase in the number of people using voice queries on Goggle is twice the global average.”

It also highlights what it calls “relationship declutter”, with divorce rates increasing globally. “This also applies to people cutting off other toxic relationships with friends, family members and work associates. We don’t need filler relationships any more, we need fulfilment. This is equally true of the companies we want to bring into our lives.

And off course, AI and future web technologies “are changing how data shapes our experiences, creating a more organic ‘flow type’ state that changes and evolves with the user, eg, LinkedIn have recently launched an AI tool on their premium package that rewrites the user’s profile and then recommends how to promote it. This “bespoking” will continue to increase so that services become more integrated in every aspect of our lives.

It also suggests that “coming out of a trying time, in 2024 [consumers] will want to make the most of the time we have. The rapid rebound of the travel sector is one indicator of consumers’ hunger to see and do more. We want to live in a big way and are open to finding new companies to do that with. With heightened inflation and recessionary trends, this desire to try new things is combined with a reducing budget creating a tension.

“Companies that can create new experiences for customers that deliver awe and good times [and] require less time investment, while not blowing the bank, will hit the sweet spot.”