Customer service complaints from Brits rise to highest level in a decade, UKCSI finds

New research has revealed the number of UK customers experiencing service issues has risen to its highest level since 2009. 

The UKCSI, published by the Institute of Customer Service, is the largest and most in-depth cross-sector measurement of customer service in the UK, with 10,000 consumers polled every six months.

The survey, which tracks the effects of customer service on business performance, found that customer satisfaction in the retail sector is rising, with an increase of 0.8 points for food (since July 2020), and 1.2 points for non-food (since January 2020) – the biggest improvement for non-food since the January 2013 UKCSI. 

However, the number of consumers reporting problems with non-food retailers has risen to 12.6%, 1 percentage point more than in July 2020 – its highest ever level since the UKCSI began. 13.3% of customers are also still experiencing problems with food retailers, which remains unchanged from a year ago.   

Customers’ satisfaction with the quality and reliability of goods and services has significantly fallen over the past year, with 36.9% of consumers experiencing a problem with non-food retailers, and 40% with food retailers – an increase of 4.5 percentage points and 5.6 percentage points respectively. 

Reflecting the changes in customer behaviour caused by the pandemic across the food sector, the number of in person experiences fell by 12.2 percentage points, while the combined number of website and email experiences rose by 9.4 points. Digital channels also accounted for 60.8% of recorded customer experiences with non-food retailers. 

With more organisations interacting with their customers through digital channels, consumers are now calling on non-food retailers to prioritise improving their websites. Customers would also like to see food retailers prioritise ensuring that they have enough products in stock, as well as their availability of their services. 

Commenting on the report Jo Causon, CEO at The Institute of Customer Service, said:  “The pandemic has had a seismic impact on the retail industry, with a number of businesses fighting for survival. As we emerge from lockdown, customers have become ever more discerning with where they spend their money, and it is critical that the retail sector pays close attention to their full service offering. While we have seen improvements in some areas, it is evident that too many brands are failing to get to grips with the root causes of customer service issues. 

“Customer satisfaction is intrinsically linked to strong business performance. For the retail industry to move forward as a true service leader, we need a broader focus on all dimensions of the customer experience.” 

Causon continues:  “The past year has transformed the customer experience landscape. As attitudes, behaviours and preferences continue to evolve, it’s more important than ever for the retail sector to blend the best elements of digital and human experiences to engage with a diverse and fragmented customer base. 

“Those brands that have performed berst in the UKCSI are those that have maintained a key focus on the whole customer experience journey – providing honest, genuine communication across different channels.” 

John Lewis, Amazon UK, Home Bargains and Specsavers topped the table for non-food retailers, while Aldi, M&S Food, and Waitrose led the way for food retailers. 

The top retail organisations in the July 2021 UKCSI are:

July 2021 rankOrganisationJuly 2020 rankChange in score July-20 to July-21
2John Lewis1-0.9
3Amazon UK60.7
7=Home Bargains272.8
16Pets at Home161.0
18M&S (Food)5-0.9
34Holland & Barrett310.8
35=Screwfix DirectNANA

Published twice a year, the UKCSI rates customer satisfaction at a national, sector and organisational level across 13 sectors. 

Over a period of five to eight years, organisations whose customer satisfaction is at least one point better than their sector are on average 70% more profitable than those with lower than average customer satisfaction.