The walls are closing in on businesses that continue to offer poor levels of customer service. In this age of social media and instant communication, companies that fail to keep their customers happy will quickly earn a potentially damaging reputation.

A new study conducted by virtual assistant specialists ava has highlighted just how much consumers’ expectations have grown.

Firstly, 51% of people in the UK say they would happily pay more for a product or service if it meant that they received a better level of service. There was an interesting gender divide, with 64% of men saying they wouldn’t mind forking out extra, whereas only 36% of women agreed.

Surely there’s a sweet spot between offering an attractive price and quality customer care?

Which customer service failings annoy us the most?

Which customer service failings annoy us the most?

Everybody has experienced bad service at some point, and a second survey conducted by ava aimed to find out which specific customer care failings grind our gears the most.

Even in the digital era, it seems that ineffective call centres are still the biggest cause of customer unrest, with one in three of our survey respondents suggesting that being held in a phone queue is the most infuriating customer service failing.

Meanwhile, 29% said that “unhelpful store staff” were their biggest bugbear and 21% indicated that they were most annoyed by poor websites that lack relevant information.

11% suggested that slow email responses were their main gripe and 6% said companies that fail to address their social media queries in timely fashion were their biggest annoyance. On the last point, it is perhaps unsurprising that younger people were the most likely to cite social media interactions (or lack of) as the most frustrating aspect of customer service.

One in five 18 to 34-year-olds chose this as their most prominent pet peeve.

Lucie Greenwood, Sales Manager at ava, said that as many industries become increasingly competitive, businesses that fail to address these issues will inevitably fall behind.

“In 2016 there’s simply no room for bad customer service. With so many comparison websites out there and with people placing a lot of store in review platforms like Trustpilot, businesses will lose trade if their customers have a bad experience. It’s as simple as that. The fact that so many people would actually forego a lower price in order to guarantee a better level of service speaks volumes,” she commented.

Here are five ways to ramp up your own customer service…

1) Get it right first time

We’ve already touched on the point that companies are becoming far less likely to get a second chance to rectify a customer service mishap. As such, it’s crucial that you start as you mean to go on.

Jo Causon, CEO of The Institute of Customer Service, recently said: “Getting it right first time has to be a prerequisite for any organisation. Customers expect to be dealt with quickly and competently – as soon as they start to feel let down or ignored, their trust is lost.”

Her comments were made shortly after it was announced that currently leads the way in the .

The report also showed that it is possible to make significant customer service improvements in a relatively short space of time. Indeed, Wilko secured second position, having risen from 45th place in 2015, while Land Rover made an even more impressive improvement, rising 54 places since July 2015.

It goes to show that if you put the effort into getting your customer care right straight away, your reputation – and ultimately your profits – will inevitably grow.

2) Be quick (consistently!)

According to research by Toister Performance Solutions in 2015, customers now expect businesses to reply to their email within an hour.

Once upon a time, consumers were happy enough to receive a response on the same day. Things have changed and businesses are under an incredible amount of pressure to be responsive.

Social media, as we’ve already alluded to, has really changed the game in terms of how quickly businesses must react to queries and complaints.

Increase the speed in which you respond to social media queries

Facebook keeps close tabs on how long it takes you to reply to people. .

Facebook can be a great place to show off elements of your impressive customer service

Getting the elusive “Very responsive to messages” badge of honour isn’t easy. To be eligible, your page must have demonstrated a 90% response rate and an average response time of just 15 minutes .

This is a tall order even for the biggest companies with the deepest pool of resources, but it demonstrates that if you can be consistently quick to deal with customers’ questions, other potential customers will notice.

In terms of dealing with phone calls, speed and professionalism are imperative. Research by Addison Lee in 2013 found that the average Briton will spend 22 days of their life being stuck on hold. Lengthy calls also cost us up to £385 a year on average.

You can read more about some of the customer care and reputational benefits of having a quick, reliable telephone answering service here.

3) Prepare for the ‘customer of the future’ & keep it personal

As you can tell, the emergence of technology has had a dramatic impact on our customer service expectations and it’s safe to assume that these will only grow even further in the coming years.

The Institute of Customer Service recently conducted some and it’s clear that businesses will have their hands full.

One of the key takeaways from the report was that consumers will want a personalised service. In fact, this is already happening to an extent.

Rather than just sending out customers’ purchases, brands like Mr Porter are creating a more customised service that makes the buyer feel special. They wrap their goods in fancy packaging that carries the person’s name in stylish writing – referring to them as ‘Mr’ – and they even throw in a branded pocket square to boot. It ties in perfectly with the brand’s high-end, gentlemanly image.

Some brands are also equipping their in-store staff with tablets, which enables them to offer a more thorough, customised service to shoppers – great news for the 29% of people in ava’s poll who said unhelpful store staff were their biggest grievance.

From a customer service standpoint, we can say with great confidence that automated systems aren’t going to cut it for much longer. People don’t want to be palmed off on a robot – they want human contact and to feel like the company actually cares about them.

4) Treat social media like an actual store

Research undertaken by BDRC Continental and published by Marketing Week showed why it’s so important that brands have a robust social media strategy.

Although our own research found that just 6% of people are most annoyed by sluggish social media replies from businesses, we expect this figure to rise sharply in the coming years.

BDRC Continental Director, Tim Barber, was quoted by Marketing Week as saying: “It is 2016 and people expect a rapid response. If they don’t get it, you could lose them forever.

Crucially, he suggested that businesses need to treat social networking platforms as an extension of their bricks-and-mortar stores.

“You have to have the infrastructure in place to respond to every single tweet – that’s important,” he added.

“You don’t pick and choose who you speak to when someone walks into a store – you aim to speak to everyone, so why do the opposite on Twitter? Treat every Twitter user like a shopper inside your flagship store.”

In 2013, the Internet Advertising Bureau conducted a study, which concluded that 90% of consumers would recommend a brand after interacting with them on social media.

The main lesson here is that customers’ habits are changing and businesses – regardless of their size – cannot afford to view social media as a “nice to have”. It’s essential.

5) Earn new customers’ trust by shouting about your good service

We’ve already seen how Facebook allows brands to promote how responsive they are, but are businesses doing enough to shout about their exemplary levels of service elsewhere?

Use Trustpilot to shout about your great customer service

This Trustpilot report from 2015 explained why customer reviews and online reputation are the “cornerstone of online success”.

One point in particular summed it up nicely…

“Online reviews are the middle point of digital and traditional business, where customers meet sellers and talk to other customers about their experience with a particular seller.”

Earlier this year, Trustpilot announced that it had garnered more than 20 million reviews across 130,000 businesses in 119 countries. Online reviews are crucial as they can make all the difference between securing a new customer and seeing them take their money elsewhere.

The overriding message is this: if you’ve put so much time, effort and money into improving your service offering, make sure everybody knows about it. Otherwise you won’t reap the rewards.

For more information on how ava can help you to improve your customer service, please get in touch here.