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Good customer service - are you feeling it?

What is good customer service? There was a time when companies patted themselves on the back for getting it right if they ensured that their call centre agents picked up customers’ calls within three rings. Few thought to find out if the caller felt heard and valued at the end of that call. 

Good Customer Service - Are you feeling it?
Getty Images, Consumerwatch

Things have moved on a bit since then - just ask Ask Afrika.


The market research company has been producing the Ask Afrika Orange Index for the past 15 years, a barometer of how companies are treating their customers compared with not only their competitors but across industries.


The company announced its 2016 findings in Joburg on Tuesday night, ranking 136 companies based on 15 000 interviews with consumers about 228 companies across 33 industries. 


That’s a pretty good sample, thus the results carry a lot of weight, with companies very eager to discover how they were rated.


The favourites 


The big winner of the 2016 index is the automotive industry, with four brands in the Top Ten - Volkswagen in top spot, Audi third, Hyundai in eighth spot and BMW joint tenth.


The companies which got the top scores were not only rated as providing exceptional service, but creating and sustaining an emotional connection with their customers.


Some companies got the nuts and bolts of service right, but totally failed on the warm fuzzies, or vice versa  - it’s the ones got both right that got the most recognition.


Listen to Wendy Knowler's on-air Consumerwatch segment below. 

The cellphone industry's performance 


The biggest shock is that for the first time in 15 years, not one cellphone company made the Top Ten. And that’s despite them scoring highly in terms of emotional connection with their subscribers.


So they must really have ticked off a lot of people of late, because as Ask Afrika MD Sarina de Beer explained, the nature of cellphones and the role the play in our lives means we are well disposed towards having an emotional connection with the companies that keep us connected.


Clearly the disproportionate cost of data, unilateral increasing of contract subscriptions, data going missing, expiring data, call limits that fail and other issues have left a lot of subscribers all out of love.


So let’s hope this year’s Index comes as a bit of a wake up call for that industry.


The networks may not have made the coveted Top Ten, but the Index also lists each industry’s top three performers in terms of customer service and in telecoms and here’s how they placed -  Vodacom  in first place, then Cell C, then Telkom Mobile.  MTN appears to have some catching up to do in the customer service department.


When it came to fast food outlets, Romans Pizza was the stand-out, placing fourth in that Top Ten overall, followed by two Famous Brands brands - Debonairs Pizza and Wimpy.


Also in the Top Ten was Pick n Pay, Netcare, Outsurance, Momentum, and Mediclinic.


Why was the motor industry so highly rated?


Because they have to work harder, faster and smarter at keeping converting sales opportunities into sales and keeping their customers happy, because when there is an economic downturn, the motor industry is the first to feel the effects, given the cost of vehicle ownership, de Beer says. Plus, consumers have huge choice when it comes to motor vehicles, and compeition is fierce. “So they do better at building relationships with their customers and work much harder within every engagement that they have with them,” she says. 


What does it mean to have an “emotional connection” with customers?



De Beer puts it like this: “It’s about authentic relationships, where a business actually understands why something is significant to their customers  - and that drives their responses. 


So it’s not offering your customers or audience a prize of a trip to Spain when what they’d prefer is a half a cow. Or a rain tank.


Also, consumers don’t just want great service, apparently we want brands to address societal issues and to share our values, de Beer says.


“So it’s a case of ‘if you value me as a customer, don’t send me a birthday SMS, build a school in my area'.”


Consumers in some regions of the country are a lot more critical and hard to please than others, a direct link with their general happiness levels, de Beer says.


So the Free Staters are the most critical, grumpy and hard to please and generally consumers who live on the coast are happier with customer service.


Ultimately, de Beer says, companies would do well to keep it real. Be authentic and be consistent.


One consistently inauthentic response I’d like to see companies drop is “We apologise for the inconvenience” - applied equally to someone complaining that the store is out of stock of coconut oil to putting someone through hell over a refund for six months.


How about “We’re so sorry about what we’ve put you through. Please give us a chance to make it up to you.”



Now that would give me the warm fuzzies.


The 2016 Orange Index’s Top Ten


Volkswagen

Woolworths

Audi

Roman’s Pizza

Pick n Pay

Netcare

Outsurance

Hyundai

Momentum

BMW tied with Mediclinic

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