Local businesses are faced with a worrying reality – Australian consumers have been found to be among the most vocal in the world when it comes to bad service.

According to ‘The American Express Global Customer Service Barometer’, a survey conducted in ten countries exploring public attitudes and preferences towards customer service, found that Australians would not hesitate to spread news of bad service, and on average, will tell 23 people about their negative experience.

Australians ranked second only to Mexicans in their tendency to report poor service to peers, with 65 percent admitting that they will ‘always tell other people about the experience’, but interestingly, are reluctant to complain directly to the business.

The study found that social media remains a popular outlet for Australians to air grievances, with 14 percent complaining on Facebook, four percent on blogs and three percent on Tweets.

Christine Wakefield, head of world service for American Express believes that Australians prefer to avoid confrontation for several reasons.

“They don’t want to cause a scene in front of other people, be perceived as causing a fuss or create delays for other customers. Some are fearful of how their comments will be received and fear retribution – we have all heard stories about waiters tampering with meals after they have been sent back to the kitchen!” explains Wakefield.

“People also feel that complaining is pointless and won’t make any difference or change things for the better. Then you have people who just want to ensure that their friends or family don’t have the same experience.”

Poor service can also create lasting brand damage. Globally, Australia ranks first for those who say a bad service experience has the greatest impact on their impression of a company’s brand.

The study also found that bad service affects purchasing patterns. 86 percent of Australians have disregarded an intended purchase and walked out of a store because of a poor service experience – a result second only to Mexico.

Wakefield reports that through the survey, it was found that Australians do not like being ignored or inconvenienced.

“The American Express Global Customer Service Barometer found that typical scripted responses, especially by telephone service staff such as ‘your call is important to us please continue to hold’, also really infuriate people. If a customer can see that the person serving them genuinely cares, they will be more forgiving of the occasional accidental slip up. A warm welcome and smile when you first connect with a potential customer is a great start to the experience and can really set the interaction up for success.”

With waves of consumers heading online to shop, Wakefield believes that it is good service that will encourage shoppers to visit physical stores.

“Superior customer service delivered in-store by service professionals is the key ingredient that can set bricks and mortar businesses apart from their online competitors. Our research reveals that Australian consumers are willing to spend an average of 12 percent more with a company that provides excellent service – so great service can also be extremely profitable.”

For online businesses, Wakefield advises that efficiency is key, for both speed of delivery and in responding to enquiries.

“It’s also important from a customer perspective that the website is easy to use and navigate and where possible, information is tailored for regular customers.“

Wakefield offers five tips on how businesses can improve on customer service:

1. Know your customer – Good service comes down to forming relationships with customers. For regular customers, get to know their likes, dislikes and purchasing behaviour so that you can enhance their experience with your business. For top customers, look at how you can give extra special treatment.

2. Make it easy for customers to do business with you – Listen to your customers and use their feedback to improve your product and service.

3. Solve your customer’s problems and strive to go above and beyond – A customer should never walk away feeling as though something has been left unresolved. Go out of your way to address the situation.  

4. Look for opportunities to make an impression – Understand and act on the notion that every customer interaction is an opportunity to create a connection and to drive customer loyalty and engagement.

5. Invest in your frontline staff – Staff members are the face of any business so ensure that your employees reflect the impression you want to leave on your customers. Remember, a happy, motivated and well trained staff member is more likely to project their enthusiasm on customers than one who isn’t.

Belle Kwan
BY Belle Kwan ON 13 October 2011
Assistant editor, Marketing magazine & marketingmag.com.au
A marketer's dream who believes everything she sees on TV.
Advertising is not evil, it is an artform and a science.