Latest annual Irish Customer Experience Report shows frontline heroes are key to winning hearts and minds of customers in era of Covid-19

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Latest annual Irish Customer Experience Report shows frontline heroes are key to winning hearts and minds of customers in era of Covid-19

Financial sector makes strong strides, with new entrant Revolut making impressive debut

The vital role which frontline staff play in helping companies to exceed customers’ expectations in the era of Covid-19 is one of the key themes to emerge in the latest annual survey of Irish brands based on customer experience.

While supermarkets and retail – especially pharmacies – adapted quickly and performed very strongly in a dramatically changed trading environment, the transport and telco sectors were among the worst performers in the survey which was carried out by Amarách Research on behalf of The CX Company.

Companies which scored the highest for exceeding customers’ expectations included the Credit Union, Allcare Pharmacies, An Post and Homevalue, the highest new entrant this year at number 11. The companies which performed most poorly ie recorded the highest scores for failing to meet expectations, included Ryanair, Eir, Vodafone, Aer Lingus and Bus Eireann.

‘Back to Basics’

Cathy Summers, the editor of the report, said due to Covid-19 the battle for the hearts and minds of customers was now very firmly on the frontline.

Covid-19 is causing a lot of fear and uncertainty and this has forced customers and brands to reassess what matters most. Because of this we have witnessed a dramatic ‘back to basics’ approach in the delivery of CX, with issues such as safety and trust coming to the fore.”

Those brands whose staff went the extra mile for vulnerable customers, called in to people, delivered prescriptions, etc who became frontline heroes, they are the ones who did well. We can see a strong correlation between the brands that exceeded customer expectations and the ones that scored highest overall for CX. We can also see a strong correlation between the brands that scored highest for the impact of staff on customer experience and their overall CX score. So, the two go together and create the emotional bonds and strong memories which build up customer loyalty and advocacy.”

The Irish Credit Union strengthened its reputation as Ireland’s CX Champion by not just claiming pole position for the sixth year in a row, but by also extending its lead at the top of the table. Shaws Department Stores was second while An Post and Specsavers were joint third.

Dunnes Retail jumped an impressive 60 places to just make it into the Top 10 where it joined other well-known brands such as Lidl, Marks & Spencer, Allcare Pharmacies and McCauley Health & Beauty

Summers pointed out that the Credit Union and An Post are the only two organisations to have maintained a Top 10 position over the last six years.

There are five pharmacy groups in the Top 20 and eight of the supermarkets are in the Top 40, so clearly they have had ‘good Covids’. That said the Credit Union and An Post deserve tremendous credit for their relentless focus on customers over the last six years. Both are embedded in their communities and have shown unstinting commitment to their customers during the pandemic.”

Not surprisingly a third of Credit Union and An Post customers said they had exceeded their expectations during Covid-19. What these and the other high-performance companies did was put the systems and structures in place to enable their ‘frontline heroes’ to step up and stand out. And that they did, offering genuine care and reassurance to customers day in and day out while putting their own health at risk in the provision of vital services. Too often they are forgotten, but employers need to look after them. They are their greatest assets.”

The Fallers

Aviation has been one of the sectors worst affected by the global pandemic with the vast majority of flights cancelled. However, negativity around the airline sector has been compounded by the failure of airlines to communicate clearly with customers and to put in place an efficient refund system.

Because of this Ryanair saw its CX score fall by over 28% and now has the lowest score ever recorded in Ireland. It also recorded the worst score for failure to meet expectations. Aer Lingus, which has been beset by similar problems, also fared poorly in that regard while also falling 55 places and out of the Top 100.

Michael Killeen, Chairman of the CX Company said while both companies had faced enormous challenges, they owed a duty of care to customers.

The appalling results for Ryanair – and to a lesser extent Aer Lingus – are down to the refund fiasco. Their approach was clearly focused on maintaining shareholder value rather than communicating with and compensating their customers.”

Other companies which posted high ‘fail to meet expectations’ scores included Eir and Vodafone. Killeen said new customers remained the main focus of these and other companies in the telecom sector.

Whatever sympathy we might have for the airlines and the massive problems they and the hospitality / restaurant sector encountered, the same cannot be said about the telcos. While it’s true their engineers did marvellous work in keeping so many of us online while we worked from home the other truth is that despite having a captive audience through the crisis, customer service levels and value for money remain very poor.”

While changing utility providers has improved greatly over the last couple of years the same cannot be said of the telcos but Irish consumers need to overcome their inertia, demand better service and vote with their feet.

Given the widespread closures which occurred during the lockdown one would have expected companies which focus on online orders / home deliveries to do well. Surprisingly many of them went into a complete tumble. Oxendales, which was 4th last year, fell 70 places, Amazon and Deliveroo fell 47 places, Just Eat went down 40.

These companies simply could not scale up to deal with the tsunami of orders which came their way. As a result, customers lost out and the companies missed an opportunity to expand and build a loyal base” Killeen said.

On the Up

As we’ve seen supermarkets and retail were the best performers while restaurants also performed well. However, it was the financial sector which recorded the greatest increase in entrants to the Top 100. Last year the Credit Union was the only representative of the sector in the Top 100. This year it has five. While its positive that Irish banks have upped their CX game – AIB moved up 47 places, Ulster Bank 32 - the identity of the sector’s strongest performers will be a concern to the main Irish banks.

This is because two out of three of the highest-ranking institutions are in fact new entrants. Revolut came in at number 26 while An Post Money came in at number 60. The third is former building society EBS, now owned by AIB which jumped 52 places to number 55.

The insurance sector also saw some positive movement. In fact, Liberty Insurance, was the biggest jumper in the survey – up 77 places to 47, Irish Life Health moved up to 30 while FBD at 8 is the highest placed insurer and the only one in the Top 10. The latter can take pride in the fact that it has moved up 102 places in the last three years.

Killeen says the improvement of financial and insurance companies is due to the fact that CX has become a core strategy. “Many of these companies were making progress before this but they really had to demonstrate empathy and make things as easy as possible for customers over the last six months. It’s ironic that it took a global pandemic to encourage greater customer engagement.

A lot of media and communications companies made it into this year’s survey for the first time, such as Spotify, Whatsapp, Zoom and Twitter, reflecting the increasing importance of communications during the crisis.

Online

One of the interesting findings from the survey is that there is no correlation between the usage of website /apps and a strong CX performance. This shows that online is not an experience differentiator but rather an everyday regular type transaction.

Killeen says it is a huge challenge for companies to exceed expectations online. “A couple of years ago Amazon and Netflix were in the Top 10, but now they have dropped down the rankings. Customers are so used to dealing with them, it has little impact unless something goes wrong.”

But of course, online is hugely important for companies and they need to keep up to speed with the development of their online offering. During Covid customers have become increasingly stressed and worried so there is less tolerance for things going wrong. That said organisations shouldn’t over focus on it to the detriment of other channels and they should also try to maximise the emotional connections they make with customers when engaging with them.”

After two years of decline Ireland’s CX score rose this year to 6.61. However, it is still well below the starting score in 2015 and we continue to trail the UK where CX is more highly developed.

Article Published: 20/10/2020