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Service more important than price for post-recession consumer

The importance of customer service over price in consumers’ minds has finally taken pole position. Despite the uncertain economy the price-hunting mentality borne from the recession is giving way to value and the ‘corner-shop culture’, and taking the top spot is now good service and quality. At last this means companies who have adopted a strategy of retaining and attracting customers rather than going head-to-head on price will win out, says Doug Stewart, chief executive at  green energy uk, a provider of green electricity.  Here, Doug outlines what he believes the new breed of ‘super-savvy’ consumers are looking for in a service and how there is a revival of the traditional small retailer.

I’m not one to dwell on reports, however in this case they reinforce my point. A study from both the American Express Global Customer Service barometer and Harris Group has shown that customer experience is a high priority. This has created a new breed of super-savvy consumers, meaning at last we’ve small companies who want to offer good service rather than competes on price, are once again in the spotlight.  Sixty per cent of those polled in these reports said they often or always pay more for a better experience and 59 per cent are willing to try a new brand or company for a better service experience.  Am I surprised?  Not reallyGreen Energy.

A few years ago some could argue that consumers considered price to be more important than the service they were getting. However, after a few years of price wars we are seeing a new more discerning bargain hunter. Now price is not a battle we like to dwell on, instead customers want, and can demand, more for their money from the companies they do business with. What value actually means and involves has shifted in emphasis, now consumers are asking what the service provides them with and how it has been delivered to them, not just what it costs.
Frankly, we applaud this kind of consumerism, after all who can blame them.

Time and time again I am bombarded with tales of people who have shifted service providers because they are frustrated when they try to deal with their provider. Challenges are presented by activities such as the outsourcing of call centres overseas. A customer calling to deal with an issue and having trouble communicating that issue because of a language barrier isn’t good for the customer relationship; in fact, it can be incredibly detrimental to it.  The customer is left feeling devalued and helpless.

For heaven’s sake; listen to customers. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? But how many times have you spent 30 minutes of your time talking to a call centre in a foreign country, just to end the call without solving the original issue you called about? The fact remains that no matter how great the company thinks their service is, if the customers don’t agree then it doesn’t count. Please don’t get me wrong, we are a small business, which means we can offer a more tailored service to each of our customers, but I don’t believe driving down costs at the expense of the customers’ expected standard of service is the right path to take. We are seeing this on the high street too. There has been a resurgence of people choosing independent stores over their supermarket counterparts – for example the popularity of local butchers, green grocers and bakeries is on the rise. We can imagine this is down to better customer service, product knowledge and generally a nicer commercial environment. It certainly isn’t about price!

Consumers want more bangs for their buck and competition is fierce, especially in an industry like energy.  To stay one step ahead individual companies must think more creatively to ensure they retain customers.  Continually developing their services or products and taking a fresh approach will stop the customer looking elsewhere.

In my experience it is essential to identify what is important to the customer, meet and exceed their expectations and above all – communicate. A famous telecoms provider once said ‘it’s good to talk’ and boy they were right! Very few people will complain if their issue has been dealt with in the right manner, even in a situation where they aren’t 100 per cent happy.  If the situation can be rectified the customer will then remember the good handling of the issue rather than the issue itself.

As well as listening to customers, think about how to add value.  We did this with a customer share scheme. This initiative has proved to be important to customers and has helped with loyalty.  Schemes of this nature can make a real difference to a brand’s offering and has been a significant factor for us in securing loyalty by allowing customers to take an active role in shaping their energy supply.

So to summarise, in our experience of following a model of giving good customer service and value for money, we think it probably helps that we’re a small company.  It’s the premise on which we’ve built our success and it’s something we’re really proud of.  We’re small enough to care about our customers and give them a great service. In short, the friendly, personable ‘corner shop’ culture is growing and we’re glad to be part of it.

Doug is the chief executive of green energy uk which sources energy from a variety of renewable sources.Green energy uk is a highly-regarded supplier of green electricity in the United Kingdom and its customer base comprises homes and businesses from around the nation who have made the switch to cleaner energy.

For further information about green energy uk and to find hints and tips on how to reduce your carbon footprint, visit www.greenenergy.uk.com.