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The Quickest Way to Lose a Customer - Treat Them Badly

06/08/2014 12:32 BST | Updated 05/10/2014 10:59 BST

We've all had it. Waiting ages for a repair person to arrive. An ill-informed or unhelpful voice at the end of the phone - after being left on hold for what seems to be an eternity. An occasion when we have bought a product or service that didn't live up to expectations. But when these occasions happen, how forgiving are we of the company, and what are the financial perils of poor service? Well, we asked consumers in the UK and the US those exact questions.

In fact, we found that over a third (34%) have either cancelled a service or stopped using a brand altogether. It's a staggeringly high figure to think a third of the customers that businesses come across on a daily basis can be so quickly and so emphatically put off spending any more money with them.

Business leaders of course know the golden rule that "the customer is always right" but this isn't always filtering down to some members of staff. And sometimes, it won't even be their fault, simply the consequence of circumstance. For example, if you run an install company, your end customers expect you to turn up on time. Inevitably, a traffic jam or something similar can cause the odd occasion when things are delayed. Yet have these businesses done as much as they can to cover themselves against such an incident? Equally, if you are shopping in a store and you notice there's a lack of assistants, maybe because some are off ill or a proper schedule hasn't been put in place, then you would expect the store would have done everything it could to mitigate such situations. But not all businesses are able to react quickly to guarantee customer service first.

When we asked consumers which industries were the biggest culprits, energy companies came out on top. Over half (52%) said they were amongst the two most frustrating to deal with, spending over an hour trying to resolve an issue, such as dealing with a billing problem or loss of power, with 4.3 hours the average time people had to wait.

How can companies turn negative situations around? Given we know how crucial it is to get the customer-facing side of a business right, companies should be looking at giving employees on the front line the best tools and information to turn them into brand ambassadors, to make sure customer facing interactions run perfectly.

We're in an era where there is a huge amount of data swirling around us all the time, but the trick is capturing it and acting upon it effectively. To do this, it's all in the planning and then implementation of systems that make the entire operation slicker. Service technicians should have the optimum routes to a job, cable employees should have access to data to understand what kind of tools and upsell opportunities exist when making a customer repair, and utility companies should be able to process billing effectively and quickly.

The risks if businesses fail to do this are pretty clear as we are likely to see them vote with their feet, and their wallets.