By Charlie Stewart
There’s no doubt that life has become tougher since the onset of regular power outages, water shortages, poor service delivery and potentially future gas rationing.
Add in the steep rising cost of living thanks to increased interest rates and inflation influencing fuel and food prices it’s no surprise that South Africans feel helpless and disempowered - no matter how loud we shout about Eskom, SAA or the soon-to-be defunct Post Office.
It’s the country’s new normal and, while we constantly hear how resilient we are as a nation, there must come a time when poor service is simply not good enough anymore.
This national apathy has permeated every aspect of our lives, to the point where we willingly accept substandard service from businesses and brands with whom we interact, silently consenting to their “good enough” service.
This is the key insight from the 2023 South African Customer Experience Report which I co-authored with CX Professional Julia Ahlfeldt and Amanda Reekie from ovatoyou, and which is now in its fifth year.
As a case in point, an individual who we surveyed provided us with their positive, anecdotal feedback about receiving warm food when ordering a meal online (should the food not be hot?) or consider the person who took their car in for a service and was delighted that the new parts were replaced on time. Surely this is expected and not deserving of praise?
On considering this, it’s easy to understand how we got here: South Africans are bearing the brunt of many battles and we’ve become despondent about the poor service that we receive from both the public and private sector. No power? Buy some extra candles. No water? Wait until it comes on, perhaps hours or days later.
This indifference is letting brands and businesses off the hook. Where we should be complaining, we are accepting, and unless we vote with our wallets and use online channels to vent our concerns, we will continue to exist in a society where we accept good enough as our norm and excellence as rare.
A case in point is Yuppiechef. Quoted thousands of times for its unique handwritten notes, we have not yet seen another Yuppiechef since it launched in 2006. Where have all the good brands gone? Have they automated themselves so much that they no longer have a human connection with their customers?
Of course, there is a lot to be said about using technology to improve efficiencies and bring down prices, but at what cost? Human-to-human contact is still the preferred means through which to deal with a brand, given that 67% of those surveyed said they prefer to go into a branch or store while 47% contact a call centre.
If it’s as simple as writing a personalised note and delivering it on time, why then are other brands not following suit with similar acts of kindness? Why are even the basics like having a website that works, ensuring that what the customer bought is what the customer gets, or that customer service channels resolve issues quickly and efficiently, being neglected?
A possible answer, as revealed by our report, is that businesses are far more focused on acquiring customers than retaining them. Let me say that again: according to our report, as an existing customer you are not as important as the consumer a brand wants to do business with.
Relationships between customer and brand appear to be waning as acquisition is increasingly the name of the game. It may be economically motivated as businesses feel the pinch but according to a study by Bain, increasing customer retention by just 5% can boost profits by as much as 25%. In other words, delighting a customer even marginally more than they are now can impact a brand’s bottom line exponentially.
It's quite simple. Those brands that are getting the customer experience right, throughout the on- and offline purchasing journey, are winning. In fact, so rare are these experiences that we, as consumers, tell all and sundry about it (82% of those who we surveyed said that they tell family and friends.
This could be viewed as ironic given so many brands are inspired by international retail giants like Amazon as if they are CX (customer experience) gods. And they’re right: Founder Jeff Bezos once said that their “customers are like invited guests to a dinner party” signifying where he and his brand placed their customer’s needs: right in the centre of their business. If brands are then so infatuated by Amazon & co, why do they continue to let us down so often?
To my mind it comes back to the South African psyche. We are tired, worn-out, and apathetic. We are accepting of our lot, whether that is from the private or public sector. Instead, we should be using whatever communication channels are available to us to make our voices heard, to call out those brands that have not delivered. Instead, we continue to accept that “good enough” is good enough.
Adding insult to injury, in an age where customers believe brands are collecting their data en masse to improve their experience (69%), the opposite is in fact true. Just a meagre 14% of brands reported to be using the data that they collected from their customer base…. which takes us back to the beginning: consumers are receiving substandard experiences from brands yet are willing to give away their day-to-day behavioural insights with the expectation of receiving service that is more in tune with their needs, is personalised and seamless.
Unless brands and businesses wake up, we will continue to operate in a malaise of poor customer experiences. Those we buy from must use what we give them, for free! – our personal data – to greatly improve our purchasing journey. In so doing, brands will enjoy far greater returns and build a big base of brand advocates who will share their positive experiences with their communities on and offline. Isn’t that the holy grail?
Keep your customers happy and lock them in for life. It’s not hard and those brands that offer increasingly better CX – from when a prospect is reviewing prices online to when they walk in to a store to buy an item - will indeed win the hearts of their customers and significantly stand out from the many who aren’t.
Charlie Stewart, co-author of the 2023 South African Customer Experience Report, and is the CEO of Rogerwilco.