Consumers losing patience with call centre queues and lack of swift service
Firms are being accused of using the pandemic as an excuse for long waits on the telephone or late deliveries, the UK Institute of Customer Service said.
While consumers were initially tolerant of delays and other issues as businesses fought to cope with the effects of the crisis, increasingly, this is no longer seen as good enough and a blanket excuse is no longer sufficient.
The number of complaints about poor service in the last six months was at its highest level since 2009, according to the institute’s survey of 10,000 people.
The sectors with the biggest issues were transport, local public services – such as GP surgeries, councils and police services, and telecommunications, the survey suggested.
A quarter of those asked said that Covid had been used to them as an excuse for poor service.
Loyalty Magazine is surprised that the number of 25% is so low, as virtually every financial institution, retailer or public service uses Covid as an excuse for long telephone wait times.
An additional problem beginning to emerge is lack of staff. A mixture of Brexit restrictions preventing workers coming from Central Europe to fill lower paid jobs; a growing number of workers who are rethinking their lives and deciding not to return to their old jobs, and lack of childcare for those with school age children who have to quarantine are all leading to a growing staffing problem. Loyalty Magazine has seen one estimate that only 25% of hospitality jobs are currently filled.
“Saying ‘because of Covid’ is not a good phrase,” said Jo Causon, the institute’s chief executive. “Organisations must not hide behind this blanket statement.”
She said that many businesses had responded admirably to the difficulties created by the pandemic. She said that managed queuing systems, such as inviting people to call at quieter times, was one area of success.
While covid has undoubtedly been over-used as an excuse for bad service, there have been many challenges. These include delays in deliveries owing to the container ship that blocked the Suez Canal in March, and border issues as a result of Brexit and a general lack of goods from China and other Asian countries.
Retailers needed to be honest with customers when they started looking at a particular product about any potential delays, she said, so they were aware of how long they might have to wait to inform their decision about what to buy.
Brian Atkinson, VP and general manager EMEA at Five9:
“Customer behaviours are vastly different from the way they were just over a year ago. New demands, interactions and of course, the pandemic has meant all previous insights we thought we knew have turned on their head.
“Businesses had to adapt and still provide great customer experiences in a matter of days. Many were ill-equipped to react to this dramatic shift, as we saw with Curry’s PC World on Black Friday failing to inform customers that their orders hadn’t gone through until after the sale ended.
Recent research shows that over a quarter of people (26%) felt that experiences with brands have gotten worse compared to before the pandemic. But by now, businesses should have adapted and there is little excuse to say otherwise.
“Consumers are more demanding than ever, and their expectations for good customer service remain high. However, the same research showed that during the pandemic, patience levels shifted and 38% of customers did not mind waiting slightly longer than usual to get the answers that they needed. These insights prove that brands need to deliver exceptional customer service to create a loyal customer base that will continue to shop with them.
“Delivering exceptional customer service starts with brands understanding what their customers want – or paying the price. As the pandemic meant demands changed drastically and digital interactions became the only way to contact a brand, organisations had to adapt and become agile, all while providing a more human experience anchored in empathy.”