As the Bank of England warns of a recession by the end of the year and concern grows around the impact that increasing costs will have on consumer spending this festive season, a new report has revealed significant failings when it comes to customer service performance across the UK’s leading retail brands. The findings indicate that over two-fifths (42%) of enquiries are being ignored or left unanswered, with just 13% answered in full and in a timely way.
The Convers-AI-tional Nation Report
The Convers-AI-tional Nation Report, conducted by customer engagement platform CM.com, analysed the performance of the UK’s top 25 retail brands, according to annual turnover figures from Retail Economics, posing common customer enquiries to each available communication channel (Website, Telephone, Email, Online Contact Form, Chatbot, Call Back, Voicebot, Live Chat, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Twitter, Instagram). The questions ranged from simple FAQs like ‘how can I make a complaint?’ to more specific queries such as ‘how can I return an item?’. Brands were ranked according to responsiveness and effectiveness metrics, with companies scoring based on their reply times (ranging from under five minutes to longer than ten minutes) along with the quality of the response provided (answered fully, partially, or not at all).
According to the report, Next, M&S and B&Q are leading the way when it comes to the number of customer communication channels available to shoppers. These brands all offered eight or more customer service channels, with questions being answered more efficiently and effectively than brands with fewer channels available. Overall, the study found that just 8% of the retailers audited offer customer service support via a human agent 24 hours a day.
The findings also reveal that the retail brands offering more ways for consumers to get in touch were able to provide timely and more complete answers to questions posed. Those brands, in turn, had a higher annual turnover, with the top 10 retail brands for customer service having over £7.2bn more than the average turnover of those brands ranked in the bottom 10.
The study indicates disparities when it comes to customer service across different sub-categories within the retail sector. Overall, eCommerce companies lead the way for responsiveness to customer queries, in addition to boasting the second most customer service channels (averaging 6.5) compared to grocery (6.1), home and electronics brands (6.1). Apparel companies averaged the most customer service channels at 7.3 across the retail companies audited. Overall, the findings highlight that Home and Electronics brands have the greatest work to do when it comes to customer service, with enquiries left unanswered and communication lines open for shorter periods, compared with retail brands in other categories.
James Matthews, Country Manager, UK & Ireland at CM.com said: “As the retail industry prepares for the busiest period of the year alongside the backdrop of challenging economic conditions, providing exemplary customer service experiences must be a priority. Automating customer service with chatbots is one way for brands to scale their operations during the Black Friday and peak retail period, enabling them to quickly and effectively handle popular questions around shipping times and stock levels quickly and effectively. Having this in place should no longer be considered as simply nice to have, but seen as an opportunity to drive significant return on investment and long-term loyalty.
“While the study has revealed gaps and discrepancies in customer service across the retail sector, it also highlights considerable opportunities for brands that are proactive at putting measures in place to ensure they are delivering positive experiences. Not only does this have a huge role to play in driving customer satisfaction and engagement generally, but there is a clear link between better customer service and increased turnover, which is now more important than ever.”
CM.com conducted a desk audit of the UK’s top 25 retail brands based on turnover 2020/2021 according to Retail Economics and the UK’s top 25 tour operators, based on ATOL-authorised passenger levels. All figures, unless otherwise stated, were collected through this audit which took place 5th-8th September 2022 and data was collected during the same time period across these days. Questions were asked across a representative sample to the following customer service channels if offered by each brand: Website, Email, Online Contact Form, Phone Number, Call Back Service, Chatbot, Voicebot, Live Chat, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Twitter, Instagram, (other).
1. How can customers find out what personal data you hold?
2. How can I make a complaint?
3. What delivery options do you offer?
4. How can I return an item?
5. Do you have a store near me, and if so what are its opening times?
6. My item is missing, how can I check where it is?
List of companies:
Aldi, Amazon, Asda, Associated British Foods, B&M, B&Q (Kingfisher), Boots, Coop, Currys, Home Bargains, Iceland, JD Sports, John Lewis, Lidl, M&S, Morrisons, Next, Ocado Retail, Sainsbury's, Screwfix, Sports Direct, Tesco, TK Maxx, Very.co.uk, Waitrose.
Annual turnover figures are for the 2020/21 year and were provided by Retail Economics.