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Guest Blogger

By Sam Walker, Retail Sector Manager, Upland Rant & Rave

The latest findings from the UK Customer Service Index make for grim reading. According to the July report, customer satisfaction has declined for the past four years and is at an all-time-low. This is undoubtedly cause for concern among retailers – if customers are dissatisfied, they will look elsewhere – and that will hit the profit margins.

With the resources currently available to brands and the levels of technology they can call upon, there’s no excuse for customer satisfaction to be as low as it is.

So, what’s causing this customer satisfaction crisis and how can retailers address the problem and rebuild customer relations?

The state of customer satisfaction

The number of different issues customers are raising is the highest it’s ever been; from speed of service, to complaint handling, and staff attitude – there’s a lot of different aspects of the customer experience to get right (or wrong). The retail sector has seen one of the largest declines in the UKCSI score in the past 12 months, dropping from 82.1 to 80.9. This is happening during a time where brick-and-mortar stores can hardly afford to alienate customers and potentially lose business. One of the strongest arguments one can make for shopping in-store rather than online is the personal touch from a member of staff. This also ties in to the experiential high street as a whole, where stores can use tech to provide customers with an experience they wouldn’t be able to get anywhere else. Brands like Sephora are doing a great job of this already with virtual mirrors, and touchscreen questionnaires to offer bespoke products. The humble store needs to modernise.

Shift in customer expectations

Failure to halt the four-year decline in customer satisfaction is likely owing to the shift in customer expectations that we’re seeing. The online world is changing how efficient we expect business to be. If a consumer wants a certain product for the next day, and the local shops are closed, they can quickly search online, browse to find their favourite product, order it, and have it with them in under 24 hours. The consumer is in control and there is minimum fuss involved in the process. This has now become the expectation we set as consumers across the board, every time we shop – whether online or in-store.

This is reflected in customer service, too. If a delivery is late or damaged, you don’t need to go to the physical store to solve the problem. There will be a number to call, a chatbot to message, or a Twitter account to tweet at, to ensure the issue is resolved quickly. We’ve become so spoiled with immediate, personalised service online, that we expect it across every channel when dealing with a business. In order for this to be possible, staff in brick-and-mortar stores need to be empowered with the necessary tech to solve those issues in real-time.

In-store customer experience needs fixing

Perhaps the best way to positively impact the low levels of customer satisfaction is to work on improving customer experience in-store. The key for keeping customers satisfied is how you deal with their feedback. If you can prove that you want to listen and want to act upon what they’ve said, that’s half the battle – the main thing is that customers want their voice to be heard!

One way to tackle this problem is to implement and install real-time feedback measurement tools such as ‘listening posts’. Listening posts can take many forms – from standalone devices to printed posters on walls – making it easy for customers to lodge their feedback via an SMS, URL or simply scanning a QR code. Once feedback is left by the customer, it can be presented to staff in the company dashboard. Certain words could even be set up to trigger alerts – for example, ‘queue’. So, if a customer complained about the length of a queue, an alert would be flagged enabling a member of staff to be added to the tills reactively to instantly shorten customer wait times at the checkout. Currently, you’ll see many stores wait for the queue to reach tipping point before having to announce on the PA that another member of staff is needed. Companies have to be more efficient than that.

If trends in the dashboard show the word ‘queue’ continually being spoken about negatively, more in-depth analysis is required. This insight can then be used to drive evidence-based change through more strategic initiatives, like the introduction of self-checkout systems or mobile cashiers. By deploying real-time, customer experience technology in-store, retailers can ensure they are listening to the voice of the customer to address those customer impacting problems as quickly as possible.

Taking on the ‘everything now’ culture

The ’everything now’ culture means that consumers today are less patient than they used to be. The immediacy of eCommerce has made people accustomed to a personalised and speedy experience – making it tougher than ever to keep customers happy.

To combat this, staff need to be empowered with real-time customer experience technology, that lets them see customer feedback as they share it, allowing them to action change and improve their experience for the better – and potentially prevent future complaints. A willingness to listen to customer feedback and act upon it quickly will go a long way to addressing the customer satisfaction crisis the UK is experiencing. Brands just need to make sure that their staff have the tools they need to service customers properly.