EIU-Elements-Ideal-Customer-Experience-Apr2015Consumers (aged 18-65) around the world are most likely to identify an “ideal” customer experience with companies’ fast responses to inquiries or complaints (47% citing as a top-3 element) and a simple purchasing process (also 47%), according to a new study [pdf] released by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU). Interestingly, those factors far outweigh others such as personalization of the experience (12%) and customized offers based on preferences (7%). That doesn’t necessarily mean those aren’t important – personalization appears to be influential in the retail space – but rather that consumers want the basics covered first.

Failure to provide those basics can lead to lost business, per the report. A majority of respondents said they had stopped doing business with at least one company during the previous year due to a negative experience, with this subset of respondents pointing to slow responses to inquiries and complaints, inaccurate or misleading product information, and delays in delivering the product or service as the aspects of the experience that “annoyed” them the most.

Overall, 71% of respondents said their typical response to a bad experience is to stop doing business with the company. A slight majority (55%) typically tell friends and family about it in person or by email, while 42% said they complain to the company and 26% post a comment on social media.

Meanwhile, consumers typically respond to an “outstanding” experience by making a mental note to buy from the company again (69%), telling friends and family (51%) and posting a comment on a social media site (23%).

In consumers’ eyes, the obstacle that most prevents companies from providing an “ideal” experience is a lack of interest in customer satisfaction, cited by 45% of respondents. That’s an interesting result, as an accompanying survey of global executives found them most likely to describe their customer experience focus as being on building relationships with customers to increase satisfaction.

That survey also found the largest proportion of executives pointing to silos within the organization (36% selecting as a top-2 choice) as the obstacle standing in the way of improving the organization’s customer experience. For executives, organizational silos count as a bigger hindrance than a lack of integrated information systems (27%) or inflexible technology and application infrastructure (17%).

Consumers also see the need for companies to improve their coordination. Asked about companies they already buy from regularly, consumers said that the most important improvements that could be made to the overall quality experience were to provide better links between in-store and online services (32%) and provide better coordination across different parts of the business, such as marketing and customer service (30%).

Other Findings

  • The study finds some disparities in the channels executives are using to interact with customers and those consumers are using to learn about and compare products. For example, just 25% of executives reported using search engine tools to interact with customers, and even fewer (19%) said they use independent websites. But these were among consumers’ preferred channels for learning about and comparing products, cited by 69% and 46%, respectively.
  • Some 51% of consumers said their overall experience as a customer has become better in the past year, compared to just 7% who said it has become worse. That stands somewhat in contrast with apparent trends in the US: a recent Accenture survey found a growing number of consumers switching companies due to poor customer experiences.
  • Even so, just 25% of consumers responding to the EIU survey said that a majority of companies they deal with currently provide them with a great customer experience. A recent survey of US consumers by the Temkin Group found only 37% of companies tracked provided their customers with a good or excellent experience.
  • The EIU survey respondents were most likely to think that the retail and consumer goods industries provide the best overall customer experience, with the telecommunications industry lagging in the list of 5 identified industries. Executive respondents also tabbed retail as the industry with the best customer experience, but placed telecommunications ahead of consumer goods manufacturing. Meanwhile, a recent Ipsos survey of US consumers found telecom to have a poor reputation for customer service.

About the Data: The EIU surveyed 2,403 consumers aged between 18 and 65 from across the world, with 8% each from the following countries: Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Japan, Mexico, Russia, the UK and the US.

The EIU also surveyed 491 senior executives, almost half of whom (44%) are C-level executives or board members, and more than half (53%) work in IT. Of these, 32% are based in Europe, 31% in North America, 28% in Asia-Pacific and the remaining 9% in the rest of the world. Around 60% of the companies surveyed record annual sales of over US$500m. A range of industries are represented in the survey, including 15% of respondents from manufacturing, 14% from healthcare, 13% from retail, 12% from telecommunications and 11% from consumer goods.

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