What customers want (according to KPMG)

Kelly  | 

It’s here: the first edition of KPMG’s Customer Experience Barometer (PDF). With the best will in the world, you probably don’t have time to study it. That’s why we’ve lifted the key lessons from the full 40-page document, allowing you to take in the most important points without investing your whole day in it. Read on to check out our highlights from the report.

So what’s this Barometer all about? It’s based on research carried out in 2013 by the international professional services company KPMG, famous for being one of the world’s Big Four audit firms, and is basically a summary of a sweeping survey of 5,000 consumers, taking in five major markets.

People in the US, the UK, Germany, Australia and China completed in-depth questionnaires on their impressions of various sectors, including approximately 160 leading brands. The results have been distilled down to an insightful report which provides answers to the question on all B2C businesses’ lips: what do consumers want?

Self-service increases satisfaction, but staff engagement is critical to success.

One of the main messages of the report will come as extremely good news to businesses who work online. “Customers who predominantly use face-to-face or telephone channels are significantly more likely to complain than those who use self-serve channels,” the Barometer has found. It seems that people prefer to be able to browse and collect information at their own pace, rather than have to go through customer service staff.

However, ‘self-service’ doesn’t mean ‘hands-off’. When you leave customers to help themselves using your (naturally extremely well-designed) website, you still need to have exceptional customer service staff ready and willing to step in and help whenever the need arises. The survey respondents emphasised that honest support staff who consistently follow through on their promises are essential to customer satisfaction.

The takeaway: build an excellent website, and back it up with fantastic customer service staff waiting in the wings.

Online retailers got their act together in 2013, and customers love it

Customers were overwhelmingly positive about improvements in their experience with e-retailers over the past year.

For example, US-based e-retailers’ customers ranked them highest for customer experience across all sectors and markets surveyed (59%). But don’t think for a moment that that gives you permission to rest on your laurels. Online retailers tend to be focused on setting themselves apart from the crowd by providing fantastic customer service.

This means that while the online retail industry is one which has a high level of customer satisfaction, it is also the one in which the competition to provide stellar customer service is highest. In turn, customers’ service expectations increase.

The takeaway: continually improve your customer support, in order to keep up with – and hopefully stand out from – the rest of the online business pack.

There’s a major gap between customer expectations and reality.

It’s no surprise that 69% of respondents rated ‘putting the consumer first’ as being of high importance to them in the companies they deal with. However, only half of them felt that this was actually being achieved. Likewise, 69% rated ‘speed when resolving a complaint/resolving a query’ as important, but 51% were happy with this aspect.

What this means for e-businesses is that there’s still a major shortfall between customer expectations and reality in both of these areas.

The takeaway: it really isn’t that hard to drastically improve your game. If your business isn’t yet customer-focused, then that’s the first thing you need to change. Unless, of course, you’re happy for your customers to wander off to find another business that does actually put them first?

Conclusion: it’s time to take action

Reports like the Consumer Experience Barometer have important lessons to teach us. You wouldn’t think it was necessary to have to keep asking customers what they really want from the companies they do business with (we’re all consumers, and we know what we want from businesses, surely?) – but it seems that it is.

What’s important about this report isn’t so much what it contains – “a customer’s view of a brand can be significantly impacted by how their issues and complaints are treated”. That’s interesting, but hardly news. What’s crucial is whether or not businesses are prepared to take action on its messages. More than half of all US and UK online consumers reported that their complaint was resolved at the first point of contact. That’s good news, but it still leaves a sizeable percentage who had to keep trying before their problem was sorted.

Are your company’s customers in the group who get their problems solved first time? Or are they having to try and try again? Don’t just file this report away under ‘things to look at later’: read it and implement some changes. The time to improve your customer service is now.