With online retail booming, one way for bricks-and-mortar stores to stay relevant and keep shoppers coming back is to offer excellent and personalised customer service. Unfortunately, instead of placing a strong emphasis on keeping consumers happy, local retailers are disappointing shoppers with a declining level of customer service.

According to an online survey conducted by research consultancy AMR and customer experience agency Feedback ASAP, 58.5% of Australians feel customer service has declined in the last 5 years, and only 17.4% believing it has improved.

According to Mary Forgie, AMR’s Melbourne general manager, dissatisfaction with customer service is predominantly focused on poor staff attitudes, problems with overseas call centres, and a lack of personal touch and product knowledge.

“The research showed that poor staff attitudes are a stand-out factor in consumer dissatisfaction,” she explains.

Respondents also believe that staff from overseas call centres present a of lack personalised service and poor product knowledge.

Phil Prosser, CEO of Feedback ASAP, says that while the results related to overseas call centres was not surprising, but he is surprised about how companies continue to use them in the same way despite the resentment and frustration they create.

“Many businesses that use this tool are failing to use it well, and continue to simply focus on the cost saving and ignore the need to give customers good service. There will always be some customers who are not happy about having to go through a foreign call centre, but there are companies who have learned to do it well, and experience the bottom line benefit and increased customer satisfaction.”

International Customer Service Professionals CEO, Tricia Olsen, says, “The results clearly show that customers in Australia currently want more from business in regard to customer service, and this expectation is, on the whole, not being met. There is a clear desire and pressure from consumers for their providers to be both price competitive, and to deliver good customer service.”

For the 17.4% of respondents who believe customer service has improved, Forgie believes that this is due to an increase in competitiveness: “The current economic environment is creating increased competition among businesses, encouraging better service training skills among staff, and an improved awareness of the importance of customer service.”

“These responses highlight the fact that there are a number of businesses who do take customers seriously, and their customers notice the difference,” says Forgie.

Prosser believes that Australian businesses must take a more serious approach to retaining consumer loyalty in an increasingly dissatisfied market. “Now more than ever, businesses need to retain every customer by supporting their frontline teams and making service a priority,” he said. “The reality is the cost of getting your service wrong is the biggest handicap to growth. What’s more, with consumers now using social media as a tool to vent customer service dissatisfaction, Australian business can no longer afford to ignore this increasingly serious issue.”

Belle Kwan
BY Belle Kwan ON 10 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.
  • Greg Cornelius

    Further evidence that businesses are outsourcing the wrong functions. Customer touching functions, like sales & customer service should remain local. If a cost saving needs to be found then back of office functions, like finance or marketing, which seldom touch customers directly by telephone, can be sourced much cheaper in developing nations where highly educated people expect much lower salaries. So finance and marketing should be sent off shore instead of customer facing roles.