Editorial | Customer service failure
Customer service at the island’s utility companies has taken a hit, with average performance in a recent survey falling below 50 per cent.
No surprise here, for aggrieved customers have been consistently complaining about the shockingly poor customer service of the utilities for many years. The litany of complaints over time include late or inflated bills; spotty, unreliable service; faulty equipment; and damaging power surges.
Commissioned by the Office of Utilities Regulation (OUR), the 2022 Mystery Shopper survey, conducted in February and March, examined the quality of service provided to mystery shoppers in store, via telephone calls to call centres and online chat.
OUR said the average performance score across all service providers was 49 per cent. The combined figures indicate that the best performing utilities were the Jamaica Public Service Company (JPSCo) and Digicel with scores of 56 per cent and 55 per cent, respectively. The National Water Commission followed with 45 per cent and Flow 38 per cent.
Elizabeth Bennett Marsh, acting director of consumer and public affairs at the OUR, said the utilities regulator was disappointed with the results.
She said in light of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, utility providers have focused on customer contact through digital means and through their call centres and the OUR was optimistic that it would have seen better performances in these areas.
Sadly, it is not just a problem with utility companies. The pressures of the pandemic have given customer service representatives an excuse for having customers join queues of misery, in their search for remedies. Blame is often the game, and this is unacceptable.
When customers meet in transactional settings, whether on the phone, in contact centres or in person, they are looking for support from the company and expect their problems to be resolved in an efficient manner. Many companies in both the public and private sectors have failed to meaningfully improve the customer experience and satisfaction
Public-facing companies ought to understand that customer satisfaction is what builds loyalty and repeat business ensures overall success. A dissatisfied customer will always seek out other options. However, when your light and power company is a monopoly, where do you go? Those with deep pockets are installing solar energy in growing numbers, but for those who cannot afford to do so, they may feel trapped, like virtual hostages.
How will this damning OUR survey inform the path forward for the island’s poor performing utilities?
Bennett Marsh said the underlying reasons for the lacklustre performance “will be explored and addressed in detail” with the utility providers at the OUR’s annual Quality of Service Symposium later this year. In other words, we feel no sense of urgency in this matter. We will host a talk-shop later this year and it is likely to be business as usual.
If we are serious about curing this customer service failing we have in our midst examples of strong customer service culture. The obvious example is the tourism and hospitality industry. The players are somehow able to deliver consistently high levels of customer service in a global market filled with fierce competitors. They are explicitly competing on the quality of customer service and the product gets good ratings.
If the OUR is serious about improving customer service it would find ways of impressing on JPSCo, et al, that their number-one priority should be to regain the trust of customers whom they have let down. It might mean upgrading their systems to easily identify their company’s shortcomings and invest in training, so they can correct or avoid service failures in future.
Poor customer service has a cost and companies like the JPSCo will begin to understand that as consumer resentment grows, more people will find a way to get off the grid.