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Issue Date: June 2004

Time for a new look at customer service

June 2004

When a company meets customer expectations, it is ensuring customer satisfaction. But when customers get value or benefits beyond what they had expected, the company has ensured customer delight. Common sense suggests that a delighted customer may be more loyal than a merely satisfied customer.

That is the rationale behind market research company Ask Afrika's National Customer Service Delight Index 2004, which puts South Africa's notoriously dodgy service ethic under closer scrutiny than ever before in an effort to give businesses a better understanding of consumers' expectations and needs.
The Index, released at a gala banquet this weekend, drew on almost 6000 respondents, and involved 24 leading South African companies across nine industries. It evaluated service delivery in various industries, and provides research recommendations that can help companies achieve extraordinary customer service levels.
All the results
South Africa's mobile network providers were awarded three of the top four placings in the country's fourth National Customer Service Delight Index, with Cell C walking away with the award as the company that most consistently delights its clients.
Cell C was named as the company which most consistently delights its clients, however, companies like Nedbank, Telkom and Ster Kinekor will need to do more to get their customers beaming, the Index found.
Ask Afrika managing director, Andrea Rademeyer, said that overall, the state of service in South Africa is not a pretty sight. "There are pockets of excellence, but people are slow to measure themselves," says Rademeyer.
The success of the three cellular providers was largely instrumental in telecommunications being named as best overall service industry in South Africa, ahead of banking and life assurance. The top two call centres belong to Cell C and Nandos, 10% clear of the next best companies.
The survey found that simply focusing on satisfaction in an increasingly competitive environment will not yield success. Companies will have to understand and focus on delight to ensure that service impacts positively on the corporate reputation and image to ensure customer loyalty.
How to get a delighted customer
Rademeyer says delight ratings predict loyalty and customer retention, whereas satisfaction ratings do not. The ultimate aim of the Index is to develop South Africa as a service destination. "If we can say our service is better than other countries, then we have an attractive foreign investment proposition," says Rademeyer.
"Service has improved over the last four years, but the fact is that pleasant surprises delight customers. Every customer contact should be treated as an opportunity to create a rewarding relationship. Companies should get inside the mind of the customer to anticipate their needs before they even know what they want."
Rademeyer says her company's focus on delight is a result of the fact that functional parameters have ceased to be meaningful differentiators for customers to choose one company over the other.
To the modern consumer, customer service is little more than the support activities provided to customers by a company, which they practically take for granted.
"Customer delight is about demonstrating and providing a set of tangible and intangible benefits beyond the functional features, a combination of which provides value beyond what the customer had expected to receive from the company," said Rademeyer.
It is important to recognise that customer delight is a moving target. It is not a fixed benchmark to be achieved. As competition intensifies and responds, the power of some benefits to act as differentiators gets diluted or erased. Companies, therefore, have to constantly monitor delight levels in relation to competitive offerings. Then they must create both more and innovative value propositions for customers to continue to feel delighted.
"We have to understand how customer expectations and needs change," says Rademeyer. "Those drivers are changing every year. Four years ago, people wanted one-stop service. Last year they wanted a better quality of listening. They wanted to feel that they were being heard and responded to."
In many categories, companies have taken the easy route of providing higher value through lower price. However, not only is there no guarantee of it being a sustainable advantage (because it is replicable by other players too), but it also strips the company of much needed profitability to create and sustain alternate benefits.
Apart from a sensible price point, customers look at company imagery, service, and other intangible parameters for selecting between companies. For a company that seeks to provide ever-increasing service levels and standards, competing on price will seriously limit its ability to invest in technology and resources to provide the desired service levels.
Source: Ask Africa, a strategic research partner that applies active intellect and connectivity. E-mail: andrea@askafrika.co.za


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