The Kiwi customer is always right—and, as new research shows, often annoyed

In slightly surprising news, New Zealand’s banks are leading the way when it comes to customer service, with one-third of respondents to the Colmar Brunton Distinctive Customer Experiences Survey of 1020 New Zealanders saying they had a particularly good experience when dealing with their bank in the past 12 months. And, in slightly less surprising news, telecommunications companies still have plenty of improving to do, with one in five Kiwi consumers claiming to have had a negative experience when dealing with their telco provider in the same period. 

Respondents cited the following Kiwi companies when asked to name one business they felt was the most dedicated to providing the customer with the best possible service:

  • ASB
  • Air New Zealand
  • Kiwibank
  • Westpac
  • BNZ
  • National Bank
  • New World
  • ANZ
  • TSB
  • Vodafone

Interestingly, New Zealand Post, which came in on top of the 2010 Corporate Reputation Index survey conducted by AMR Interactive, doesn’t feature on this list.

Overall, the survey showed personal customer experience in New Zealand has improved in the past five years, mainly because of a significant reduction in negative customer experiences to 59 percent this year from 72 percent in 2006 when the survey was last conducted.

But a bad customer experience can still be dangerous to corporate reputations and earnings: respondents are twice as likely to tell others about a bad experience than a good one. They also have more tools to do so with the proliferation of social media.

“The adoption of social media means that consumers are sharing their experiences, good and bad, through a forum which lives on well after the original incident has been forgotten,” Dick Brunton, the joint founder and executive chairman of Colmar Brunton says. “The stories, and detail that respondents offered when explaining their negative experiences, demonstrates a real viral danger, as stories take on more meaning than the initial experience as they are passed along. Still, New Zealanders are reasonably forgiving of a problem with customer service, but what really matters to them is how it’s handled and resolved.”

Brunton says the survey shows companies that make the commitment to improve the customer experience can turn things around. For example, banks contributed 37 per cent of all particularly good experiences cited by the survey respondents this time around, but five years ago, that figure was just 24 per cent.

The study showed that phone companies contributed one-third of all bad customer experiences and particularly bad telco experiences outnumber particularly good ones by four to one.

“Banks and airlines have done a great job of ‘onlining’ and automating the service experience in a way that feels both personal and customised,” says Brunton. “But businesses should be wary of going down the automation track without considering how it feels to the consumer. Telcos are widely criticised for automating their phone systems in a way that is cold, impersonal and actually makes it harder for consumers to interact with them.”

Brunton believes how companies handle the transition to online and telephone customer service is increasingly key to how consumers perceive them. He says ASB has been a leader in this area, as evidenced by the nation’s—and perhaps the world’s—first virtual bank branch via Facebook.

There is also strong evidence a customer-driven approach is better for a company’s bottom line than a purely profit-driven one.

“Organisations that authentically put the customer first build more brand value for their shareholders than those who put shareholders first,” he says.

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