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The digital age has empowered consumers like never before. Comparison sites have given them access to the kind of tariff and hardware information that once if not exactly secret, was still closely guarded. The rise of social media has given them another outlet in which to compare suppliers and, more worryingly for suppliers, a chance to vent their anger and make the switch.

Only this week I joined in a conversation with a friend on Facebook who was livid to the point of meltdown with his broadband supplier. Here is a snippet of the conversation which generated more than 30 comments.

I guess you guys are right. I really find XXXX customer service quite infuriating, hence the delay in my complaint. You just go round in circles and never seem to get anything resolved.”

The conversation ended with my friend, after looking at all the varying comments from his network of friends about different suppliers, dumping his supplier and switching to mine on my recommendation (which also meant I will receive a discount on my next bill – great).

This is modern consumer power in action on a social network – by-passing completely the marketing and advertising efforts of suppliers and instead providing real world experience. And there is little the suppliers can do about it. Or is there?

Central to my friend’s dissatisfaction (apart from it not providing a reliable service that his job depended on), was the failure of his supplier’s customer services to deal with his original complaints as he expected. What really angered him was never being able to either talk to someone, or he if did, was left with the feeling that they didn’t care or that he was being fobbed off. And then having to repeat the whole sorry experience!

This experience is backed up by new research commissioned by Accenture. According to the results, many consumers would stay with a current provider if an issue was resolved in the first contact. Read that again -- the first contact.

The survey of more than 12,000 consumers across 32 countries showed that among those that said they would have stayed if their provider had acted differently, two-thirds (67 per cent) said they would have been more likely to stay loyal if they had their customer service issue resolved during their first contact, whilst 54% cited rewards as a factor.

My friend’s real world experience – now broadcast all over Facebook – backs this up.

In a related study (The Digital Home Study, UK also by Accenture), some of the conclusions showed that:

  • Good customer support yields customer loyalty, but customer support needs improvement.
  • Three out of four (75 percent) agree that getting good customer support makes them more likely to buy from the same company in the future.
  • Poor customer support is among the top three reasons consumers are not satisfied with electronics and computing products and services. This is particularly the case for digital and standard cable, cable modem and digital subscriber line services.

And yet while these findings may seem obvious, the question is why do providers get it so wrong? Why do they fail at the first hurdle? Why do they not log and then respond to the complaint or enquiry? Why do they not have the data ready to resolve the issue? It’s a basic human desire to be listened to, to be treated with respect and if and when resolutions are promised – we expect those promises to be fulfilled. What consumers don’t want to do is call back repeatedly.

It could be argued that the lack of face to face contact causes customer relations to fail. But as the interactions on Facebook and Twitter show, friends don’t need face to face contact to make themselves clear, help each other and get results.

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About Paul Fisher

Paul Fisher is the founder of pfanda, the content marketing agency for the information security industry.

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