While customer satisfaction does not necessarily equal customer loyalty, it's certainly a necessity, according to the UK-based Institute of Customer Service (ICS), which has published its latest research detailing the most important factors that keep customers satisfied.
The report, entitled 'Customer Priorities: What customers really want', was compiled to improve marketers' understanding of consumer priorities throughout the UK and Ireland, and is expected to be the basis for the formation of a new national Customer Satisfaction Index (CSI).
Top consumer priorities
The research found that customers' top priorities in determining their satisfaction with a supplier are:
- Overall quality of the product or service supplied;
- Friendliness of staff;
- Handling of problems and complaints;
- Speed of service;
- Helpfulness of staff;
- Handling of enquiries;
- Being treated as a valued customer;
- Competence of staff;
- Ease of doing business;
- Being kept informed;
- On time delivery/solution;
- Reputation of the organisation;
- Range of products or services supplied;
- Telephone service;
- The statements or billing;
- Staff appearance;
- Continuity of staff/dealing with the same person every time;
- The physical organisation, such as premises or vehicles.
According to ICS director, Robert Crawford, the report represents a warning to companies to be more careful about the meaningfulness of their customer satisfaction processes and surveys, many of which cover issues of importance to the organisations' managers rather than the issues that matter most to customers.
Crawford explained: "Customers base their evaluation of suppliers on whether they have received the results, outcomes or benefits they were seeking. Customers search for - and stay with - companies that do what matters most to their customers, so surveys must also be based on these criteria."
Winners and losers
According to the report, different sectors deliver widely varying levels of customer satisfaction. Service businesses, such as hairdressers, household services like decorators and professional services, are best at satisfying customers. The public sector and ex-nationalised industries bring up the rear.
"Service businesses satisfy customers more than organisations in other sectors because they treat people as valued customers, have friendly and helpful staff, offer good overall value for money, handle problems and complaints well and make it easy for customers to do business with them," said Crawford.
Employee satisfaction is vital
Employee satisfaction is highlighted by the report as typically producing higher levels of customer satisfaction, since more satisfied employees are more highly motivated to give good service.
Higher customer satisfaction also produces higher employee satisfaction since employees prefer working for companies that have high levels of customer satisfaction and low levels of problems and complaints, the report concluded.