Opinion

Why do so many UK companies still get customer service so wrong?

6 min read

27 August 2015

An over-reliance on legacy IT systems that aren't designed to cope with the data-led world we live in has meant the customer journey has suffered, argues Jon Cano-Lopez, CEO of the REaD Group.

“The customer is always right” is a mantra for businesses of all types and ages, and it feels as if this hasn’t been more important than today. The avenues for customers to raise a complaint have increased rapidly with the continued growth of social media, in line with the potential for a business’s customer service failings to be laid bare for all to see. 

What also seems to be increasing is the intolerance of the UK general public towards those companies that don’t treat them with respect; the Institute of Customer Service (ICS) has seen a continuous decline in its UK Customer Satisfaction Index since January 2013, with 11 out of 13 sectors seeing a decrease in satisfaction in the latest report from January 2015. 

Poor complaint handling, low responsiveness and tardiness in solving problems are all issues that consumers have highlighted, and these are problems that can, and do, have an impact on the bottom line. The report reveals that a low customer satisfaction index correlates with a lower growth in sales, putting a tangible business measurement against providing good customer service.

I do struggle to understand how, in the 21st century, many companies can get customer service so wrong. Yes, the ways in which companies can be caught out, or make mistakes, has increased but so has our ability to solve problems and deal with them in a streamlined manner. The information provided willingly by these customers gives us a raft of information that can be used to provide the service they want, so let’s use it.

It all comes down to how this information is organised, processed and then used. A poorly designed internal data system means that customer information won’t be available to representatives when they need it. For example, if a customer contacts a company regarding a problem, the staff member dealing with the query should be able to automatically have that person’s relevant details to hand. Or if a customer logs into an online service, that website should create a personalised experience creating a tailored journey for each and every potential consumer.

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Yet this kind of customer journey is not as prolific as it should be, thanks to an over-reliance on legacy IT systems that simply aren’t designed to deal with the fast-paced, data-led and customer-centric world we live in. Online retailers such as Amazon may have cracked it, but the likes of insurers may still have work to do. Departments often have their own data stores partitioned off from each other, preventing information from being shared and full customer pictures created. 

These systems also tend to have limited data types that can be stored, such as basic demographic details like gender or address, therefore neglecting more in-depth behavioural insights such as in-store and online shop visits; this data creates a truer picture of who a customer is and how they want to interact with businesses. 

Systems such as these siloed, low-insight databases need to be dispensed with if the UK’s customer service is to improve. A more intelligent model is one that sits at the heart of not just a department but a business in its entirety, with customer insight coming from each and every touch point at which they interact with the business; online, telephone, email, in-store etc. 

This allows a single customer dataset to be far more in-depth: an address given in a handwritten form can be combined with behavioural cookie data from the past six months, along with the number of in-store purchases. This combination of offline and online data builds a picture of the shopper far fuller than any siloed database ever could.

With a database structure like this, a customer’s experience of a business can be radically transformed. Each interaction is more personalised than the last, allowing not only the right solution or product to be offered by the business, but also offered in real-time. This solves those seemingly perennial issues of poor complaint handling, and slow responsiveness, and so should help the UK’s customer satisfaction sky rocket.
What is UK PLC waiting for?

Image: Shutterstock

Jon Cano-Lopez is CEO of the REaD Group.