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The Internet and Customer Care: Aid or Anarchy?

It was reported in 'Marketing' magazine this month, that Britain is becoming a "disaffected nation", with each adult apparently making an average of 12 complaints to service providers each year, based on a "Service in Britain" survey by ASR (Andrew Smith Research). In response to the rise of the 'assertive consumer', brands are endeavouring to make sure 'good customer service' is a recognisable characteristic in the form of testimonials, efficient call centre responses and empowering staff throughout the company to resolve problems. Most complaints were about power, utility or postal services at 42%, followed by supermarkets, telephone providers, TV or ISP providers and banks. Insurance companies were also in the top 10 with 21% of the articulate disaffected nation.

Which? Magazine ( ) has been campaigning for consumers' rights since 1957, though with the advent of the World Wide Web, other companies have also been capitalising on consumer frustration. Since the late 1990s, a new breed of consumer champion websites has emerged, including uSwitch, moneynet ( ), moneyfacts ( ) and the motley fool. These websites offer free subscriptions to financial product information, providing comprehensive and impartial cost comparisons. Consumers can search on a variety of criteria, so they always get the best quote for their particular circumstances. In addition to an increased uptake in using search engines to research products and companies, consumers are increasingly utilising these comparison websites to ensure they get the best deal. Websites such as Kelkoo ( ) and Ciao ( ) also provide the consumer with tools to make a wise purchase decision, incorporating reviews from registered users to encourage trust in the site. Amazon and eBay ( ) are now household names because they have established online communities of trust and their loyal supporters bring new customers.

The disaffected nation is becoming an increasingly IT literate force, with its soldiers equipped with e-mail addresses, online bank accounts and familiarity with a range of online retailers. As broadband penetration increases and websites offer an increasingly sophisticated range of services, companies will be less worried about bit rates and more concerned about bite rates as word-of-mouth whips its way through e-mails.

Whilst certain companies may still be slow to react to customer concerns, market monopolies are gradually being disbanded as consumers embrace new ways of shopping.

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