Customer service ratings take a nosedive, survey finds

You’d think the term ‘customer service’ would be a good guide for retailers and other businesses as to what customers expect. But according to new research many industries are failing badly at this fundamental part of running a business.

Research from software development company ServiceNow indicates that in 2022 13.3 million Australians tried to resolve issues relating to products or services. That’s an increase of more than 1.6 million on 2021 figures or roughly a 14 per cent jump.

Given inflation and rising prices, you might think retailers would be bending over backwards to maintain strong customer relationships through good service.

That would also seem to be an effective way of recovering customers lost through the pandemic.

Read: Pain-free customer service calls

Apparently not, according to the second annual edition of ServiceNow’s Customer Care Report, conducted by Lonergan Research. The report is based on a survey of over 1000 Australians, and it shows most people (93 per cent) are changing their spending and shopping habits in the face of cost-of-living pressures.

It also found that almost a third of Aussies (30 per cent) will complain more or return more items when receiving bad products or services – an indication that many are fed up with poor customer service.

The big focus of customers’ dissatisfaction has been poor phone service. According to the survey, consumers spent 96.5 million hours contacting customer service to resolve issues in 2022. That’s seven million more hours than in 2021 and it works out to an average of 7.2 hours per person who complained.

That’s a lot of time to spend on the phone trying to rectify something you were already unhappy about.

Read: The bank where customer service was a joke

Rubbing salt into an already festering wound, the average time to reach an actual resolution to complaints is 7.3 days. Eric Swift, vice-president and managing director, ServiceNow ANZ, says this an area where businesses are really pushing their luck.

“When it comes to great customer service, speed is key. As businesses fight for customers, it’s essential that organisations have the right processes and technology in place to get things done fast,” he says.

“Organisations need to make it easy for their employees to help, by automating routine requests, connecting internal teams and enabling easy access to all relevant information.”

The rise in dissatisfaction with service was almost universal across all industries. When trying to resolve an issue, industries ranked as having the worst customer service were: telecommunications (35 per cent, up from 28 per cent in 2021), government (27 per cent, up from 25 per cent) and financial services (18 per cent, up from 13 per cent).

In terms of the largest relative rise in complaints, travel and transport was the clear ‘winner’. Its 16 per cent dissatisfaction rate was up from just 6 per cent in the previous year. That’s a massive 267 per cent rise.

I have not travelled in the past couple of years, but from my experience on social media, in particular Twitter, in the past 12 months, this spike is no surprise.

Read: Grocery shopping apps help navigate your local supermarket

My timeline over the past year is littered with airline customers who have made complaints about lost luggage, and flights being changed or delayed with little or no notice. Customer complaints have then been stonewalled or ignored in many cases.

Qantas CEO Alan Joyce claims the airline has turned the corner, but not everyone has bought his rhetoric.

There was one good news story to emerge from the customer service complaints carnage.

The ServiceNow report shows that the grocery and supermarket sector went up in customers’ estimation in 2022, with 36 per cent of respondents rating it best in customer service, well up on 2021’s 25 per cent.

The food and beverage sector was voted second best (21 per cent), with healthcare services (20 per cent) coming in third.

For the businesses that haven’t performed well, the message is clear, says Mr Swift: “Sacrificing the quality of service to cut costs will send consumers straight into the arms of competitors.”

This is good advice, provided, of course, you can find a competitor that hasn’t made the same sacrifices!

What has your customer service experience been in recent times? Have you had any nightmare episodes? Why not share your thoughts in the comments section below?

Andrew Gigacz
Andrew Gigacz
Andrew has developed knowledge of the retirement landscape, including retirement income and government entitlements, as well as issues affecting older Australians moving into or living in retirement. He's an accomplished writer with a passion for health and human stories.
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