Consuming Issues: Competition means friendlier faces at the tills
Saturday 30 October 2010
One of the good things about getting old – though I won't be getting a free bus pass for decades – is that you can compare how things used to be and how they are now, and one of the most pleasing developments has been a revolution in customer service.
Twenty years ago, you often got a blank look when asking where to find the honey/chainsaws/nappies, or whether something came with a guarantee or batteries.
You still encounter that sometimes, but are more likely to be walked to the honey/chainsaw/nappy department and be greeted by an unfeasibly cheery or at least a passably friendly face at the till.
Regular surveys by the Institute of Customer Service (ICS) back up this anecdotal view. Over the past three years its average customer satisfaction score has risen from 65 per cent in July 2007 to 75 per cent in July 2010. Its latest six-monthly survey, based on an internet poll of 26,000 shoppers, unsurprisingly reveals that some organisations and sectors do better than others.
First, the firms that treat customers well. Of 153 organisations, the public rated the top 10 as: John Lewis, Waitrose, Lloyds Pharmacy, Saga Holidays, Virgin Holidays, Marriott, Marks & Spencer Food, Boots, First Direct, and Marks & Spencer stores.
Why did these firms do so well? It's interesting that the top two, John Lewis and Waitrose, belong to the same employee-owned business, the John Lewis Partnership, which offers better pay and conditions than high-street rivals. Almost certainly because of these benefits, fewer employees quit and those who remain become more experienced and knowledgeable.
Some of the other retailers which are not employee-owned have a social ethos. While being a shareholder-owned firm, Marks & Spencer has an interest in ethical trading and a reputation for nurturing staff. Lloyds Pharmacies, owned by a German pharmacy giant, has a long list of employee benefits, including an annual bonus and a 20 per cent discount for staff.
Boots, part-owned by the venture capital firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, now rewards staff on customer service rather than sales, and polls 50,000 shoppers on its performance every week.
Jo Causon, ICS chief executive, says: "There's clearly a link between customer satisfaction and employee engagement. We know – without being trite about it – that happier staff create happier customers."
This was how sectors performed, with the best first: food shops, services, shops, tourism, motor industry, insurance, leisure, banking, transport (bear with me, you're about to get to the worst), telecommunications, local public services, national public services and utilities. Now there's a trend here: the greater the competition in a market, the better the service.
We can't change our water company, and few switch power supplier. Result: poor service (though utilities were the most improved in the first six months of 2010). Similarly, we mostly don't have a choice of hospital, school or council. We tend not to change landline or mobile phone provider and stick with the same bank. Result: poor service.
Whereas, if we don't like our supermarket, chemist or hairdresser, we saunter off to the next one. Companies in competitive industries know they must keep customers happy.
It's important to point out some public services did well, such as the ambulance service, perhaps the most important one to get right. But the overall message is: contented staff in active markets make customers smile.
Heroes and villains
This smart box will revolutionise your TV viewing
Korean electronics tend to be inferior to Japanese ones, but Humax is an exception. Its personal video recorders which record, pause and rewind TV are a joy: intuitive and smart. Which? lauds the £300 HDR Fox T2, which can store 300 hours. Lesser models start at £120. If you don't have a PVR, it will revolutionise your viewing.
It's back to the naughty step for Santander, which has gobbled up Abbey, Bradford & Bingley and Alliance & Leicester. Most of its 53 savings and cash ISA accounts pay less than 0.5 per cent interest, which means that with a Consumer Price Index at 3 per cent, you will lose rather than gain if you "save" with them.
- 1 Nathan Collier: Montana man inspired by same-sex marriage ruling requests right to wed two wives
- 2 Amber Roof: Sister of Charleston shooting suspect Dylann Roof launches fund-raising appeal for wedding and honeymoon
- 3 Russell Brand condemns moment of silence for Tunisia attack victims as a 'minute of bulls**t'
- 4 'Help me I'm trapped in a factory' messages keep being found on bottles of vitamin water
- 5 Right to die: Belgian doctors rule depressed 24-year-old woman has right to end her life
Greece crisis: IMF was pushed around by Angela Merkel and Nicholas Sarkozy – and now it is being humiliated
Forget little green men – aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert
'I wish the BBC would stop calling it Islamic State' – David Cameron unleashes frustration at broadcaster
Greece crisis: The wider lesson is that it’s time to abandon this failed experiment in currencies
Girl, 7, stares down hate preacher at Ohio festival with pro-LGBT rainbow flag gesture
Nathan Collier: Montana man inspired by same-sex marriage ruling requests right to wed two wives
iJobs Money & Business
£15000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company offers a range of ...
£15000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisors are r...
£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £45K: SThree: SThree were established in 1986....
£40000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Compliance Manager is require...
Day In a Page
Previously two semi-detached properties, this five-bedroom home is spread over three floors with a large breakfast kitchen, orangery, office and gym on the second floor.
This five-bedroom home enjoys countryside views over the Blyth estuary to Southwold, offering flexible living space with a ground-floor annexe - ideal for use as a holiday let.
Close to the market town of Eye, this four-bedroom detached home offers a double-height living room which takes the place of the original, 19th-century, chapel nave.
Dating back to the 19th century, this four-bedroom home needs modernising. Spanning three storeys, the red-brick house has a fireplace, a small terrace and a cellar.
Just outside of Cambridge, this single-storey home offers three double bedrooms, a living room with vaulted timber ceiling and ladder steps that lead to a mezzanine study area.
This six-bedroom Georgian home is on three floors with open fireplaces, a two oven Aga, an annexe, and cottage gardens with outbuildings and a car barn.
A former coach house, Glebe Farm Stable is now a three-bedroom cottage with a double car barn, an attached office, kennels and an outbuilding that's currently used as a gym.
Located beside an impressive Victorian viaduct, this four-bedroom home has an open-plan living area that is glazed on two sides, with skylights and high ceilings.
A former furniture workshop, this three-bedroom home has high ceilings and painted brick walls, in a village setting only fifteen miles from the coast.
This five-bedroom stone townhouse features a pine staircase and an Inglenuk fireplace, double doors from the lounge give access to an enclosed courtyard.
This five-bedroom, detached home blends traditional and modern design; the sleek kitchen features a gas hob and oven set within an exposed chimney breast.
Moored in Chelsea's Cheyne Walk, this houseboat offers two double bedrooms and a teak deck that's ideal for al-fresco dining.
Surrounded by woodland, this five-bedroom manor house has plenty of outdoor storage space in the form of three converted loose boxes, two smaller outhouses and a woodstore.
This six-bedroom home is set amongst three acres of grounds. Currently a large family home, Clift Hill has potential to make a B&B or countryside retreat, subject to change of use permissions.
This Grade II-listed three-bedroom home is situated on a private road, just a short walk from the sandy beaches of Frinton-on-Sea.
Less than five miles from Malmesbury, this four-bedroom cottage comes with equestrian facilities and gardens that extend to approximately three acres.
Spanning three storeys, this late-Victorian five-bedroom farmhouse is a spacious family home with a modern interior and B&B potential.
With an original church arch, this triplex one-bedroom church conversion has a light, spacious, feel and comes with a secure off-street parking space.
This recently-refurbished three-bedroom home has bi-folding doors that lead out to a decked seating area - ideal for alfresco dining this summer.
Well-located for coastal walks and popular restaurants, this detached four-bedroom home offers views over farmland, to the Solent, the Purbecks and Bournemouth.
If you love high ceilings, school conversions like this one are bang on the money. This two-bedroom flat is minutes from Burgess Park and the foodie haven at Borough Market.
Set within a church conversion in Bermondsey, this two-bedroom maisonette combines existing features, such as original arches and brickwork, with a contemporary finish.
In the pretty market town of Bungay, this grade II-listed Mill House is arranged over four floors, offering four bedrooms and three reception areas.
This four-bedroom Edwardian home offers a combination of original features and contemporary design after a renovation by the current owners.
This four-bedroom home offers a vaulted ceiling in a breakfast room that's ideal for summer entertaining with doors that open to the patio and garden.
On the market for the first time in more than 50 years, this six-bedroom home is a project with vast potential - spread over three floors of living space.
This five-bedroom home comes with a range of outbuildings including a large barn which could be converted into a self-contained granny-flat or rental.
Surrounded by rolling countryside, this four-bedroom barn conversion comes with a self-contained, one-bedroom annexe that could serve as an office or a holiday let.
Located near Harrogate town centre, this five-bedroom Victorian terrace is arranged over three storeys while a current study serves as an optional sixth bedroom.
A ground-floor flat in a country house, located a mile from Sway; this two-bedroom home would make an ideal weekend retreat on the edge of the New Forest.
On a popular residential lane in Caterham on the Hill, this four-bedroom family home offers a secluded garden and a convenient location for local schools and public transport.
Just a short walk from Westerham green, this three-bedroom cottage has a light kitchen with exposed brickwork and double doors that lead to a south-facing garden.
In a prime spot opposite the River Thames, this one-bedroom flat has an 18sq ft reception room with glass doors that open out to a private terrace.
Set in the hills above Llanwrda Village, west Wales, this 18th-century three-bedroom farmhouse has holiday-let potential from a separate barn conversion and annexe.
This charming end-of-terrace townhouse is arranged over three floors, with two double bedrooms and a private courtyard garden located at the rear of the property.
Located in the University area, this semi-detached five-bedroom home is arranged over three floors - there's even a rear garden and off-road parking too.
Only a few minutes' drive from the charming town of Marlow, this two-bedroom home sits on the private riverside estate of Harleyford.
This detached four-bedroom home in Middleyard is arranged over two floors, with features that include a wood-burning stove and bespoke oak staircase.
In a row of eight detached Georgian residences, this five-bedroom home offers views of The Sound, Mount Edgcumbe and Cornwall from its impressive veranda and full-length balcony.
If you love cooking for friends this two-bedroom flat - complete with views of the iconic Battersea Power Station and an open-plan kitchen/dining area - will go down a treat.
Located above Grasmere village, this five-bedroom home is arranged over three floors and offers countryside views across Grasmere Lake towards Silver Howe.
This four-bedroom detached home comes with a double carport, useful workshop, garden and two walkways that offer views of the adjacent countryside.
With space for an equestrian business, a greenhouse for growing your own veg, a wine store and a gym; this five-bedroom home has all the ingredients for a country retreat.
The decked roof terrace of this two-bedroom flat is perfect for summer drinks while large windows and ample storage space make for a light and spacious interior.
Set sail for this four-bedroom farmhouse in Cowes. With five acres of land and an indoor pool, this home oozes character. There is even potential to let a one-bedroom annexe.
Surrounded by approximately 15 acres of grounds, this six-bedroom grade II-listed home has been extensively refurbished yet retains many period features.
This four-bedroom home comes with a two-bedroom cottage and commercial office, with planning to extend, in a stunning courtyard setting.
In a pretty Norfolk village, this four-bedroom family home is surrounded by landscaped gardens, with even a self-contained annex for guests.
A few miles from the seaside at Perranporth, this four-bedroom farmhouse sits amongst nine acres of idyllic grounds - including a lake and two barns used as holiday lets.
This five-bedroom home is arranged over three floors of a converted Victorian hospital, offering spectacular views of the Pentland Hills - only three miles from the city centre.