South African consumers apathetic, disappointed, says report
We're so used to failure that we're delighted when an organisation just 'gets the basics right'
South Africans have become complacent, apathetic and disappointed in the service they receive from brands, businesses and the government, according to the fifth South African Customer Experience Report.
It says they feel disempowered when engaging with brands and businesses which do not listen to feedback, “a uniquely South African phenomenon”.
It can be linked to a disempowered nation, one in which a citizen’s experiences are poor or just good enough at best: from load-shedding and water shortages to an increasingly poor economy which is pushing up the prices of almost everything, according to the report.
“As a nation, we are often lauded for our resilience, and it appears that one positive experience may outweigh multiple lapses ... we’ve become so inured to failure that we’re delighted when an organisation actually gets the fundamentals right,” it states.
The online research was based on a sample of 2,000 individuals and 50 business leaders, and co-authored by Amanda Reekie, founder of research tool ovatoyou; Julia Ahlfeldt, founder of Julia Ahlfeldt Customer Experience Consulting; and Charlie Stewart, CEO of digital agency Rogerwilco.
“This nationwide apathy has created a consumer who is accepting that, among the brands they shop from, ‘good enough is good enough’. We have let our standards slide so far that we are willing to let brands get away with substandard service, quality and reliability,” said Stewart.
The report adds that while it may not take much to delight South African consumers, they are “remarkably easy to disappoint”.
Of the 10 sectors the report focused on, the state comes stone last when it comes to customer satisfaction. Given the well-documented scandals that have befallen many national, provincial and local governments, as well as the country’s state-owned enterprises, the report found it’s perhaps surprising that only half are either dissatisfied or extremely dissatisfied with service delivery. While 27% are neutral, 23% report being satisfied or extremely satisfied.
The state significantly underperforms the lowest-ranked business sector — insurance — which saw just 19% express dissatisfaction with their service experiences. While 39% were neutral regarding their dealings with insurers, 12% were extremely satisfied.
Topping the customer satisfaction charts were the grocery and restaurant/fast-food sectors. The former reported extreme satisfaction among 28% of respondents and general satisfaction from a further 45%, with just 10% expressing dissatisfaction. Numbers were broadly similar for restaurants and fast-food providers.
Banking occupied third place with an aggregate 67% satisfaction score, leaving just 12% of the sample dissatisfied. The sector that garnered the most neutral sentiment was automotive, at 44%.
Topping the customer satisfaction charts were the grocery and restaurant/fast food sectors. The former reported extreme satisfaction among 28% of respondents and general satisfaction from a further 45%, with just 10% expressing dissatisfaction.Customer Experience Report
When the business audience was asked which industries it benchmarks customer experience against, finance and insurance came out as the leaders by some margin, with 37.5% of respondents using them to baseline their own performances.
The report found online reviews continue to become an increasingly important source of information for consumers, influencing on and offline spend. Online engagement has grown significantly over the years as more consumers choose digital options to buy groceries, medication and clothing, among other items. Consumers want to have good experiences throughout the online and offline purchasing journey and if they are not happy, will tell others.
The report found 59% of respondents will tell their friends and family if they have a poor experience, up from 50% last year. They are also far more likely to air their grievances in public, with 50% confirming they’d post on social media/an online review site. This is a meaningful increase on the 43% who indicated they’d have done so in 2022.
Reekie said while consumers were extremely forgiving of brands during the Covid years, they no longer are and “have become apathetic and complacent”, which “presents a threat and an opportunity for brands”.
“It’s a threat if they continue as is, offering poor experiences which could cause customers to leave, while it’s also a significant opportunity for the brand that disrupts its market by making relatively simple changes to how they engage their customers,” she said.
Customer loyalty after positive experiences continues to rise year on year, and consumers are even more actively contributing to the review ecosystem, the report states.
While consumers have lowered their expectations, brands are also not doing enough to retain customers.
“Likely to be feeling the economic pinch, many are chasing acquisition over retention, creating a 'leaky-bucket' syndrome. Onboarding a new customer appears easier than keeping an existing one, leading to a cycle of seducing the new while losing the current,” said Stewart.
Brands are sitting on a golden opportunity to up their game and offer great, not just good, customer experience, said Reekie.
She said the overriding message from this year’s survey is that South Africans “still have far too many ordinary experiences”.
“Brands that go above and beyond to delight us will be the companies we invest in.”
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