Battling with business has become a curse of our time, and many of us now spend the equivalent of a day a week simply managing our online lives. Unwelcome intrusions in the form of cold calls or spam can test the patience of even the most temperate amongst us, as we become used to controlling when and how we connect with organisations. Tolerance has reached a new low following the tsunami of PPI calls, not to mention fear arising from reports about disgraceful scams targeted at us all; but in particular aimed at vulnerable customers. Fraudsters will use whatever channel they can to achieve their aims, with the phone and online providing cheap and universal access.

Ultimately this suspicion makes it nigh on impossible for organisations with valid (and often useful) motives for contact, to get a fair hearing, as they are crowded out by illegal and also legal, but nuisance calls. In my own experience, a visit to the vet with Ted, my border collie puppy, was promptly followed by calls from pet insurers; a mixture of suspicion and aggravation prevented me from taking the hassle free option available. Instead the insurance issue gravitated slowly from a must do soon/very soon to now imperative; a nagging niggle. Following a few exasperating waits in call queues, my well intended insurance 'to do' slipped back to ‘must do sometime soon’ status. Needless to say after a couple of mishaps, and a very large vet bill, I very much regretted turning down the timely proposition on the 'cold call'.

This week I attended the Which taskforce meeting (weblink here) in Parliament chaired by Mike Crockart MP. Despite some commonly held predictions that calls to landlines are becoming extinct, levels of public disquiet about nuisance calls show no sign of abating in the near future.

This issue, in common with most topics about how companies engage with consumers, leads to an inescapable truth; there is an urgent need for customer service to be taken more seriously in our boardrooms. A starting point must surely be a serious gap analysis between Annual Review rhetoric and the reality as experienced by customers.

The irony of customers struggling to get through to an organisation, yet being pestered by a different arm of the same brand is not only illogical but unnecessary where we have technologies and tools to join up customer touch points. Every effort should be made to fully deal with customers at the point of contact, instead of rationing time available, as is so often the case in order to meet operational targets.

For large organisations using multiple communication channels, perhaps in different locations using outsourced providers, it is vital that Boards have a full view and a clear understanding of how customers access services and exactly how the entire communication supply chain operates.

It is often said that customers are gaining more power; in retail and travel sectors this is clearly evident. Inertia in banking and utility sectors is being replaced by increased levels of switching; helped in part by legislation. How well customers are treated and the accessibility of services will effect the choices they make.

Interestingly, according to a recent report (link here) issued by Citgroup, the power exerted by the Bix Six energy companies over their customers will be over by the end of the decade.  The report states that independent suppliers and power generators will steal a sizeable share from the leading energy companies. It said all the six large utility companies will need to restructure their supply businesses and improve customer service if they are to hang on to even the predicted lower number of customers. An interesting shift which may equally be demonstrated in other sectors as service expectations continue to increase. 

For those of you wondering about Ted's fate, he's fully recovered and in case you are wondering he's not for sale!

CCA is celebrating its 20th Annual Convention on 25 & 26 November in Edinburgh.  For more details click here.