Warming up Customer Communications12 April 2018 / by Chris Robinson (author) / Ipswich
In our multichannel, always connected world, customers expect efficient responses fast when they have questions. But while consumers are increasingly conversing with companies through a range of on- and offline channels, at all times of the day and night, it seems
Despite the hugely competitive nature of the utilities market, this is one of the less connected sectors when it comes to communicating with customers. In fact Yonder Digital Group research into how easy consumers found organisations in a range of consumer-facing sectors to contact, and how good they were at responding to issues, found that just 49% of consumers rated utilities as good or excellent. Almost one in five (19%) rated them as poor and 32% as merely basic.
Dissatisfaction leads to defection
Yet with almost 60 suppliers now available to consumers, all competing for custom, it has never been easier for people to defect elsewhere should their current one disappoint. 2017 saw more than 5.5 million people switch electricity accounts for example: a new record according to Energy UK.
Utilities are not however the only sector letting customers down: none of the sectors included in the Yonder research perform particularly well according to the 2,000 consumers surveyed. Online-only retailers came top, but still only 59% voted them to be excellent or good. Out of the others surveyed, insurance companies achieved an excellent or good score from 47% while internet providers scored 46%. Right at the bottom were delivery firms and airlines, both voted excellent or good by just 37% and 36% respectively, and with the highest poor ratings of all at 24% and 23%.
This leaves a hefty proportion of customers across all sectors dissatisfied with the companies they do business with. Yet with ever growing competition for customer share, none, including utilities, can afford to downplay the role of contactability in customer satisfaction, and ultimately spend and loyalty.
Research shows that failing to answer queries quickly and effectively can have a major – and negative – impact on how customers feel about a business, making good contactability absolutely business critical. GfK Energy Research Panel figures for November show that of the Big Six gas and electricity suppliers, people are least satisfied with npower, E.ON, and ScottishPower, with around a third of their customers unhappy with how difficult they are to contact.
How customers prefer to engage may differ of course depending on the immediacy or nature of their query, so the first step for any business should be to ensure that customers can find their details easily with a range of channels on offer. Live agent support is also key: Yonder research has found that 84% of UK consumers are more likely to stay loyal and increase business with those that offer a variety of touchpoints – and especially live interaction with a real person. In fact, this is a key influencer for 87%.
This level of contactability is also critical to ensuring that queries are resolved efficiently, and relies upon live agent interaction being provided at the very least during the busiest times for site visits and queries.
Response time is also important in our always-connected world and consumers expect swift query response across all of the channels open to them. 64% expect companies to respond to and interact with them in real time and 80% say that receiving immediate responses to requests also influences their loyalty.
The benefits of providing live agent support along with a choice of communication channels are clear. Better contactability sees problems solved fast, often in just one call or chat, lessening the need for future contact and increasing customer satisfaction and loyalty as a result. For the business, it is also a far more cost efficient approach than when multiple efforts are required to answer a question or solve a query.
With the highest ever number of utility customers switching accounts in 2017, and plenty of deals about to tempt them, customer service can clearly be a key differentiator when people are considering whether to stay or to go. As with businesses across all consumer-facing sectors, utility providers need to ensure they are contactable and responsive when customers get in touch, or they too risk being left on the shelf as competition for online customer share continues its rise.