Corporate Reputation

Why customer service matters

Forget social media, advertising or even pricing, a new report claims that customer service – specifically online – has the biggest impact on a brand’s reputation. In fact, a whopping 86 per cent of consumers claim that a poor online customer service experience, has negatively impacted their relationship with a brand. And for some, the experience is so damaging that it affects all future spending.

Make every conversation count, a report by FM Outsource, a customer service outsourcing company (so no vested interests at all), found that 47 per cent of customers simply stop buying a brand after a negative customer service experience while 41 per cent cut back on their spending. And three in ten disgruntled customers tell their families and friends to avoid the brand in future.

But their main issue is not, as might be expected, an inept or rude operator (although these obviously matter) but wait times. Six out of ten cited short waiting times as the most important component of online customer service, and an almost identical number cited long waiting times as the worst. (An unpleasant operator irritated 23 per cent of those surveyed, yet ironically an over-friendly one bugged ten per cent.)

It’s what Rupert Younger, director of Oxford University’s Centre of Corporate Reputation, describes as the ‘capability’ element of reputation, which, along with character, is key to how a company is perceived. When consumers view brands through a capability lens, they’re really considering factors that are tangible to them, such as the quality of a product or customer service.

Five years ago, when insurance company Aviva looked at how it could rebuild trust in the sector, it identified customer service, and specifically waiting times, as one of the issues that needed to be tackled before looking at major reputational levers. If you can’t get the basics right, then nothing else matters. Customers won’t be swayed by a grandiose community initiative if they can’t get through to talk about their policy.

Corporate reputation? Sometimes it’s just about common sense.