Why treating customers fairly should be a top priority


In my position as an independent customer experience expert on the SAS Collaborators Programme, I’ve been delving into the detailed results and findings from its latest piece of CX research: Experience 2030: Has COVID-19 Created a New Kind of Customer?

The exercise set out to discover how attitudes have changed, and if businesses had made progress in developing their customer experience delivery in the wake of COVID-19. The survey reached out to 10,000 consumers from across EMEA. It shows that COVID-19 has reinforced the importance of customer experience in consumer buying habits. It’s a fascinating read, and I’d highly recommend you download it for yourself.

Lots has already been written about the headline findings (that 34% of customers would stop doing business with a company after only one bad experience), but it’s one of the details that fascinated me: that the “Company acts responsibly and shows compassion” is a key factor that informs buying decisions.

It caught my eye because it’s definitely one that sits higher up Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (vs. basic expediencies like price and availability), and so could be a causal factor of behavioural change.

Respondents ranked several different factors, and the table illustrates the proportion of factors that made the top three in importance.

The full text within the questionnaire is “Companies that act fairly, responsibly and respectfully towards others, showing humanity and compassion.” Its importance was asked pre-COVID-19, and since the pandemic took hold.

Digging into the data

I therefore dug further into the data, and some significant distinctions emerge (again showing the proportion of each cohort that placed this factor in their top three most important):

The breakdown by age group has even more striking distinctions. 

The youngest age group (18-24) was the most passionate about acting fairly, responsibly and respectfully towards others, showing humanity and compassion. This factor’s importance has leapt up by 2.5 points, an increase that is matched in the next youngest age group (25-34; 2.4%). This aligns well with numerous studies that show younger age groups have an amplified sense of social conscience.

In the older age groups, the 65-plus cohort already factored this highly in importance and has maintained this view. It is the next group down (55-64) that has registered the biggest increase in importance – by 3.8%! The discretionary spending power of these older groups means that providers should sit up and take notice of findings like these.

Market conduct and treating customers fairly (TCF)

The important lesson from these Experience 2030 report insights is that ALL companies should learn from the market conduct agenda (aka conduct risk, which is regulated in financial services) to identify and serve "vulnerable" customers and treat all customers fairly.

Protecting the interests of vulnerable consumers is a key focus for the FCA (UK regulator). It defines a vulnerable consumer as “someone who, due to their personal circumstances, is especially susceptible to harm, particularly when a firm is not acting with appropriate levels of care” (source: FCA website). It is clear that this refers to permanent vulnerability (e.g., a special educational need), but it also includes temporary vulnerabilities (e.g., bereavement, relationship breakdown, loss of employment, sickness or injury). Do these ring any bells in the times we’re living in?

6 outcomes of fair customer treatment

Similarly, the TCF agenda describes six “outcomes” of fair customer treatment (also sourced from the FCA website):

  1. Consumers can be confident they are dealing with firms where the fair treatment of customers is central to the corporate culture.
  2. Products and services marketed and sold in the retail market are designed to meet the needs of identified consumer groups and are targeted accordingly.
  3. Consumers are provided with clear information and are kept appropriately informed before, during and after the point of sale.
  4. Where consumers receive advice, the advice is suitable and takes account of their circumstances.
  5. Consumers are provided with products that perform as firms have led them to expect, and the associated service is of an acceptable standard and as they have been led to expect.
  6. Consumers do not face unreasonable post-sale barriers imposed by firms to change product, switch provider, submit a claim or make a complaint.

Although regulated in some countries and sectors, these principles and outcomes are also relevant and applicable everywhere – and this finding from the Experience 2030 report confirms that it’s getting ever more important in high-spending groups.

I would highly recommend that you take a close look at yourself in your corporate mirror and ask whether your treatment of customers matches up. If you’re regulated already, then ask whether you’re adhering to the spirit, as well as the letter, of the law. I’ve seen too many tick-box exercises and “somebody else’s job” attitudes at work to make any assumptions.

Is your contact planning agile enough?

The second implication of this particular finding from the Experience 2030 report is that contact plans and treatments need to be adaptable and flexible in these volatile and uncertain conditions.

This applies at the individual level to swiftly detect behavioural change (positive and negative), diagnose the cause, and respond accordingly with a contact plan and/or offer that demonstrates that you are acting fairly, responsibly and respectfully towards others, showing humanity and compassion (as SAS’ research question so eloquently put it). 

It also applies at a societal level – especially if you trade internationally or across states where different lockdown regimes are in place. I wonder how many companies have already developed different contact plans and messages for customers with different restrictions? And if companies are proactively identifying and managing vulnerable customers rather than just handling defaults and complaints?

More insight required

If you take this finding on board – that you need to act more responsibly and show more compassion – then there are prizes to be won. Loyalty and consideration will increase, and your brand reputation will be enhanced.

The only way to attain these prizes is with analytical insights. You must identify vulnerability or unfair treatment, detect behavioural change, and incorporate external constraints into contact planning, offer management and treatments. And do it in real time, repeatably/sustainably and scalably!

Please get in touch if you would like a deeper conversation about fair customer treatment, or with SAS UK & Ireland to see how their tools and expertise in powering immersive technologies can help you. 


About Author

Peter Lavers

B2C and B2B Customer Experience & Customer Management

I am a specialist in B2C and B2B customer experience (CX) management & CRM, and recognised as one of the world’s top influencers on these and related subjects. Having spent half my career in industry and the other half in the consulting world, I've had the privilege of working with businesses in diverse sectors, engaging stakeholders on their own level to implement actionable improvements that make a difference to customer experience and profitability.

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