Finger on the satisfaction pulse

A cross-industry study into how the public rates service and products provides a ‘health check’ for companies, and reveals where the brand experience is failing to match the marketing promise

Waitrose%20carCustomer satisfaction is an important measure for any brand – indeed Northern Rock says good customer satisfaction will stand it in good stead despite its current turmoil – yet customer satisfaction benchmarking studies tend to look within industry verticals, giving management insight on their comparative performance with peers. But as consumers, this approach does not really reflect how we experience (and rate) the organisations we deal with.

Since 2004, FDS International has undertaken CompariSat, a study of 1,800 nationally representative UK consumers and how they rate customer satisfaction with organisations in markets spanning financial services, retail, utilities, telecoms, directory information services and public sector organisations. Such cross-industry benchmarking gives useful insight into perceptions of factors such as people, value for money, product quality and range, innovation, loyalty, trust and advocacy as well as a generic customer satisfaction measure – a “health check” on what UK consumers do and do not appreciate in the organisations they deal with.

One overarching result emerging from the 2007 study compared with previous years is that it is becoming harder for organisations to excel – in 2006 a mean overall satisfaction score of 7.9 would have positioned an organisation in the Comparisat top ten. In 2007 that figure is 8.1.

One obvious observation in this year’s results is the presence of four out of five of the UK’s leading supermarkets. In a highly competitive market sector with tight margins and a high number of interactions with consumers each year, the need to deliver consistently across a range of customer satisfaction parameters is paramount.

Waitrose topped the poll in overall satisfaction across all sectors, but lagged its supermarket peers in two areas: value for money and product range. Should this be a concern for Waitrose management? With a clear value proposition that tends to a more intimate customer experience, a restricted but high quality range (and at a price) are fundamental elements of the Waitrose proposition, and customers seem to “get it” without detracting from the overall high satisfaction rating. Asda, on the other hand, seems to have won the key battle in the eyes of consumers on value for money, leading the pack on this.

The re-emergence of Marks & Spencer in the top ten is marked when comparing results from previous years. In 2005 the mean satisfaction for M&S was 7.72; in 2007 this has risen to 8.46, mirroring other corporate measures of improvement such as share price (which has almost doubled in the same period). With high scores for people, trust and product quality, the alignment between the organisational objectives of a revitalised management team and customer perception of this is clear.

The Yell UK-owned directory enquiries service 118 247 enters the top ten, standing apart from its larger and better-known peers 118 118 and 118 500 on factors such as people and trust. For all directory enquiries services, however, value for money stands out as a negative factor with the three organisations from this sector benchmarked in the study emerging relatively poorly.

Amazon, which scores highly in terms of value for money, continues to deliver high levels of overall satisfaction, also excelling in the eyes of consumer in terms of innovation, product range and advocacy. The one area where Amazon scored less well was in satisfaction with contact channels (such as complaints), which remain less well regarded than other organisations covered in the study.

In the commercial sector, the clear laggard on several factors is Virgin Media, perhaps reflecting the impact of turmoil and uncertainty as a result of a change of ownership. Its overall satisfaction rating is 6.72. In key areas where Virgin Media would be expected to excel, it scores poorly, particularly on staff, product quality, advocacy and trust. Close to a quarter of respondents had had cause to complain to Virgin Media in the past 12 months.

Utilities companies, which fared poorly in the 2006 study because of the impact of rising prices, recovered partially in 2007, averaging 7.33 overall in terms of mean satisfaction. In sectors such as this, where differentiation is difficult and there are fewer opportunities for direct engagement (compared with the supermarket sector, say), perhaps achieving much more than these levels would be too much to expect. The commoditisation of the market is clear, however – explaining the rise in online price comparison and switching service providers.

Financial services companies, which made up the highest scoring sector overall after supermarkets with a 7.87 mean score, may have something to teach utilities. Many of the competitive pressures of price transparency driven by the Web exist in this sector too, but for satisfaction with people there is a full 0.5 difference in score, suggesting execution and focus on customer touchpoints is merited.

In a short summary like this there is little opportunity to explore fully all trends emerging from this ongoing study. What is clear, however, is that when organisations match their public persona of brand and marketing promise with delivery “on the ground”, customers respond positively. 

Charlotte Cornish, managing director of FDS, contributed to this week’s Trends Insight

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