There’s a frilled lizard running down the street after the pizza delivery man, getting emotional because his order is cold. Little Frill can’t understand why all customer service can’t be like First Direct. It’s a simple ad that reminds every organisation that when a patron contacts them it’s usually because there is a real demand, a question, a need to change or a need to express dissatisfaction. These needs are universal, regardless of sector or the organisation so why is there such a difference in the levels of satisfaction customers experience and how are these levels linked to our emotions just like Frill’s?
Even before we delve deeper into the potential root causes of satisfaction and dissatisfaction it is important to acknowledge that the latter has significantly higher potential consequences than the former as discussed in my previous blog, which is why the sentiment of the experience is paramount to this discussion.
The UK’s Customer Service Index clearly shows customers are most satisfied when speaking and interacting with Retail (food and non-food) organisations and least satisfied when conversing with Utility companies. What we eat, what we wear, products that assist us in the home and in relation to our work are both fundamental and necessary aspects of how we live. The time we spend interacting with retail brands’ customer service is usually small for the most routine of these regular purchases when compared with the longevity or use made of the product. Gas, electricity and water (and the 4th utility – broadband) are however perceived as a necessity on a very different level. The correlation between the emotional charge connected with a customer interaction directly reflects how these different ‘necessities’ are perceived, and with utilities in particular this appears to drive a heightened expectation and response when communicating with customer care departments.
Some will say that the Utilities sector is naturally at a disadvantage due to the fact we purchase electricity and gas as a basic essential for life and we are a captive audience for the Utility companies, but parallels can be drawn with Utilities as the food market too is dominated by a number of large suppliers and anyone who has done a Friday night ‘big shop’ is unlikely to disagree that the experience is any more ‘enjoyable’ than selecting who will provide the gas to cook with and the electricity and water necessary to heat and light the home.
No one is oblivious to the psychological and emotional reward that we gain from food or the rewards we get from acquiring the latest gadget and the must-have designer label but we also garner emotional and psychological satisfaction from warmth and light – so what is the difference?
I would argue that the ‘customer outcomes’ we seek when contacting our utility provider are clear to us but are frustrated by the utility sectors indifference to the customer journey, their cost-loyalty equation and the draconian sign-posting to inadequate self-serve channels.
With a growing number of challenger brands in the Utilities sector the big providers must recognise this and strive to provide an emotionally rewarding experience or risk losing customers or retaining customers who are dissatisfied. There is a real cost to the providers in terms of their profits but also to the reputation of their brand and the industry in which they operate.
The Utilities sector can’t revolutionise frustrating aspects of the industry overnight, but change will be seen in due course, such as being required to improve their ability to switch providers. There are challenges within the sector, like every vertical, for customers and suppliers alike which will always remain; creating a one size fits all tariff which is good for every customer for example. But the customer experience they provide and the journey they take them on is something they can alter and it is something they can revolutionise which is why it has to be a priority if they want to provide emotionally rewarding experiences and leave customers feeling satisfied.
So what should they do to improve customer satisfaction?
In a word the answer is ‘easy’ – be easy to speak with, make yourself easily available, make the choice of channel easy, make bills easy to understand, and make changes, updates and purchasing easy. The Retail sector is way ahead on this front – Generally speaking they have lived in a more competitive world where customers can switch providers with much more ease and as a result they have prioritised being easy to deal with. It is easy to buy something online or order on the phone, it is easy to return an order or ask for a different size and you will find the vast majority of retailers embracing social media, chat, and YouTube.
Without sounding trite, this is how the Utilities sector can look to change to improve customer satisfaction and provide emotionally rewarding experiences, otherwise it risks remaining an ‘easy’ target for disloyal and emotionally unattached customers and being keel-hauled as the benchmark for poor customer experience against all other sectors And ‘yes’ Frill, she did eat the pepperoni!
Photo by Wouter licensed under Creative Commons