Throughout my career in communications (B2B and B2C) I’ve always felt frustrated when all the work (and budget) that goes into marketing and PR to drive awareness, to get people to click on a website or make an enquiry, or physically walk into a retailer, is ruined by a poor experience or service that stops the consumer becoming a customer. It feels like all that creativity, money and time is wasted.
When I worked in the car industry (for 15 years), there were huge budgets and teams of people trying to create the best marketing communications. I enjoyed staying in luxury, five star hotels hosting media on glamourous PR trips abroad to launch new cars, but I know from my own experience that no matter how desirable a car looks on the pages of a car magazine test, social media post, advert or website, if the consumer doesn’t feel the business treats them properly, or the product disappoints, they go elsewhere. Sadly, not every business seems to understand this.
That’s why for episode 44 of My Caravan Industry Insights Podcast, I interviewed Senior Customer Experience Strategist, Matthew Patchett, from a company called Reputation, a specialist in online reputation with software that manages consumer feedback from acquisition to loyalty.
We discussed why the customer’s experience starts as soon as they Google you (or your product or service) – so well before they actually become a customer. It’s all about starting to build a relationship with the consumer by creating the right impression and making your business more memorable and worth talking about than your competitors. It shows why your marketing is so important – from website content created by your marketing strategy, to editorial generated by your PR; that’s the type of content you want consumers to see to start building a relationship with your potential customers, and not negative comments on social media forums.
It doesn’t sound like rocket science, does it? Surely it is obvious that customer service is critical for any business, no matter if it’s a high value item like a car or caravan, a service being provided for a few or thousands of pounds, or whether you’re communicating in B2B or B2C.
Click HERE to listen to episode 44 of My Caravan Industry Insights Podcast to hear more customer experience insights.
Customer Service or Customer Experience?
I think there’s a subtle difference between customer service and customer experience. Yes, it’s a subtle, but important.
An experience is more emotional, something you feel. Customer service should create a great customer experience. That’s the difference.
To me, a company that pays attention to the service or experience it provides is more likely to be professional throughout the entire business. It shows me that if they’re paying attention to details like customer service, valuing and listening to customers, so their approach to their whole business is probably going to be more thorough. As a result, a business like that will be closer to understanding their market as well and is surely more likely to perform better than other companies. That’s good for them, their customers and the whole economy.
We all know that products can have faults. Every car brand I’ve worked for has had a sizeable customer service department dealing with all the inevitable issues that come up either from the vehicle itself, or warranty issues. In fact, colleagues in the Aftersales department called themselves the ‘Future Sales’ department. They’ve got a point! In those situations, it’s how any issues are dealt with, and the communications with the customer that make the difference between customer service and a positive customer experience that they will tell other people about.
Every car or caravan retailer has competitors eager to get the sale. It’s easy for consumers to be tempted by trying to get the lowest price, but a reputation for good customer service and an experience that makes them want to buy from you instead of the cheaper offer several miles away will win the day.
How satisfied are customers?
Everyone wants happy customers that become loyal customers and advocates for your business. So how satisfied are customers and what makes them unhappy?
Twice a year, The Institute of Customer Service publishes the UK Customer Satisfaction Index (UKCSI). As its name suggests, this is an independent benchmark of customer satisfaction across various sectors in the UK economy.
The key findings of the most recent report (January 2023) show that the UKCSI had fallen slightly (by 0.7 points). That is disappointing to hear. You can read more details HERE and download a free copy of the UKCSI report HERE.
The better news was that in the sector specific reports, the overall UKCSI score for the Automotive sector was 2.4 points higher than the UK all-sector average (but had fallen 0.6 points from a year ago). There isn’t a specific report for the caravan industry, but the automotive one will be closest to compare to.
But which automotive brands do you think were rated highest for customer satisfaction? Lexus, BMW or other premium brands? No. You might be surprised to know that the highest rated brands were Suzuki, KIA and Hyundai. Suzuki was also the joint 8th highest rated overall in the January 2023 UKSI, alongside M&S (retail). Surprising, isn’t it? Well done, Suzuki. I know it’s not a high volume brand in the UK, but its retailers are obviously doing something right. It would make me consider the brand next time I’m in the market for a new car. The last car I bought was a Dacia, and part of that decision was a very helpful (but not pushy) sales person in the dealership. We hadn’t set out to buy a Dacia, but our good customer experience lead to a sale.
In the caravan industry, there are the annual Owner Satisfaction Awards produced by Practical Caravan magazine and the Camping and Caravanning Club. For 2023, there were 4,735 respondents and the manufacturers that received the top Gold status were all smaller brands (in the UK) with the larger brands still scoring quite well, but a few percentage points behind them. I don’t want to get caught up in the statistics, but larger volume brands are more likely to have more disgruntled customers, but these can turned back into happy customers if their experience with the customer service team is a good one. Used caravans and supplying dealers are also rated. It makes interesting reading, and while the survey is not on the same scale as the UKCSI, it still provides consumers with something to help their buying decisions, and goals for manufacturers and dealers to improve on.
Onwards and upwards
One word that kept coming up in the interview about customer service in episode 44, was ‘relationship’. Creating and building a relationship with consumers and customers is so important. It’s a perspective that more businesses should adopt if they want their business to thrive.
From a communications perspective, it also shows how creating content for your marketing channels helps your business when the consumer does a Google search. Does the content a consumer finds about your business or products give them a better insight about you than your competitors? Do you have good content to start building a relationship with your brand and its values? Once you’ve done that, we’ll start looking at SEO in a future episode and blog.