A survey of over 2,000 working age adults has revealed that the perceived standard of UK customer service is slipping in the wake of record inflation. Close to half (41%) of the respondents questioned by People 1st International said that the standard of customer service they had received in the last 12-18 months had worsened.

A further 37% were ambivalent towards the standard of customer service on offer, suggesting that ‘skimpflation’ – a phenomenon whereby inflationary pressures and squeezed profit margins force firms to cut corners – is beginning to creep in.

What do customers complain about?

Disinterested staff and chatbots replacing human interactions were amongst the most commonly cited complaints of respondents who thought that the standard of customer service offered by firms is in decline.

On the flip side, when quizzed about what they value most when it comes to customer service, well-trained, knowledgeable and happy staff ranked head and shoulders above the rest, with 68% of respondents singling out high-quality staff interactions as their number one must-have.

In light of the forecast that UK inflation will soar to a 50-year high by the end of January next year, cost savings will be weighing heavily on many businesses’ minds. However, according to Jane Rexworthy, Executive Director at People 1st International, businesses need to consider their customers’ preferences before making cutbacks.

In times of recession, training and development budgets are often the targets of cost-cutting, but failing to invest in your people can damage business finances in the long-run,” said Jane Rexworthy.

The finding that 40% of respondents expect higher prices to be reflected in the level of service they receive underlines the importance of maintaining customer service standards, she explained for CXM.

The role of customer trust and diversity strategies

Despite the squeeze on disposable incomes, 43% of respondents agreed that they were willing to pay more for goods and services if they received a high level of customer service. Further responding to the survey results, Jane Rexworthy said that businesses have a clear incentive to maintain and even enhance customer service standards despite challenging macroeconomic circumstances.

Offering high-quality customer service sets businesses apart, meaning that well-trained staff remains a key tool in a business’s arsenal. Consequently, those that continually invest in their people will fare better than their rivals in the coming months,” commented Rexworthy.

A diagram from the research showing inflationary price hikes and customer response.

In addition to the quality of customer interactions, speedy responses to questions (54%) ranked similarly highly among respondents as a hallmark of winning customer experiences. Consumers viewed free gifts and the opportunity to provide feedback as comparatively less important, favoured by 37% and 16% of respondents, respectively.

Beyond providing an acid test for customer expectations against the backdrop of inflationary pressures, the survey is a clarion call for businesses to pay more attention to how they cater for and interact with diverse groups, such as the LGBTQ community and those with disabilities. 42% of respondents said they would spend more with a business if it provided an accessible and inclusive service.

A further 48% stated that they would not return to a business if it didn’t provide an accessible and inclusive service, whilst 58% of respondents said they would recommend a company to family and friends if their customer service were accessible and inclusive.

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