Relationship Economy: Are UK Customers Becoming Harder To Please?

The UK Customer Satisfaction Index (UKCSI) has fallen for the second year in a row, the Institute of Customer Service’s July 2014 report shows. With results demonstrating that customers are now less satisfied with service levels than they were in January 2011, how will companies respond to the 10,000 UK consumers who are dissatisfied with the service they are receiving?

The index measures the UK’s top 100 companies with John Lewis and Amazon coming in at top of the pack again, with John Lewis in first place. It is a reflection of attitudes to customer service among the country’s leading brands.

Relationship economy

Jo Causon, CEO of the Institute of Customer Service commented that “The UK is now a genuine relationship economy, where an organisation’s long-term success is determined by the quality of interactions between customers, suppliers, partners and organisations.”

If the UK really is becoming a relationship economy, why are companies allowing their relationships with their customers to slip away from them? Perhaps companies are simply not reacting quickly enough to evolving customer expectations.

After all, Amazon are truly leaders when it comes to seamless and immediate service. The recent revelation that Jeff Bezos was experimenting with new-generation drones to bring orders directly to your door almost as soon as you order them confirms this. How can anyone possibly keep up with that?

With companies such as Amazon so far exceeding expectations, and the other 90% in the index clearly falling short, is it simply the case that UK customers are becoming harder to please?

Small business vs. the big boys

By nature, consumers expect both more and less from smaller businesses. Customers understand that smaller companies do not have the budgets for impeccably streamlined experiences. On the other hand, SMEs are expected to be more accommodating, personal and friendly on the whole.

There is a pervading perception of larger corporates as less personal, more formulaic and very attached to their IVR systems and automatic email responses. Small businesses, on the other hand, are viewed as “one of us,” “part of the community,” and “fuelling the local economy.” People like to do business with small companies and forgive them for imperfect experiences, especially when a relationship already exists between the consumer and the supplier.

For small business in the UK, it is definitely a relationship-economy.

Large companies, on the other hand, can afford to invest in robotic drones and immediate self-service, small companies offer the human touch. Their performance is not measured in the same way as the performance of a large corporation and customers have different expectations of the relationships they can build with these companies.

A customer in the hand is worth 2 in the bush

It is 50% easier to sell to existing customers than it is to bring in new ones. Whether you work for a small or large company, understanding the importance of customer relationships for business is imperative.

Competition is getting increasingly tough and pressure is on for companies to continually innovate for better service, more streamlined experiences and friendlier exchanges. Companies of all sizes need to bear in mind their place in the relationship economy and how they can keep customers engaged and happy to ensure a future of many happy years together.

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