Why Brand Love, Satisfaction Aren't Keeping Shoppers Faithful

Consumers Are Switching Products Like Never Before, But There May Be Things You Can Do to Prevent It

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Love just isn't enough anymore. In brand relationships, good customer service, high customer satisfaction and even professed brand loyalty won't keep consumers from ditching a product for the competition. In fact, more than half of U.S. consumers did so last year.

A global study by Accenture found that even though consumers are more satisfied with customer service than ever before, they are switching brands at a high rate.

The survey, conducted over the web in September and October 2011, queried more than 10,000 consumers to measure customer satisfaction across key attributes in 10 different industries. It found that while satisfaction increased for all those service attributes, an astounding two-thirds of respondents -- 66% -- reported they switched brands in the past year because of a bad customer experience. While the U.S.-only percentage of switchers was lower in 2011, at 51%, it is still significant and an increase over the previous year.

"Switching is something that 's here to stay, said Robert Wollan, global managing director, Accenture customer relationship management. "Consumers have become accustomed to switching when the service or product isn't meeting their needs."

What is new is the big uptick in satisfaction, with increases ranging from 5% to 7% in one year, depending on the category. Consumers are happier, for instance, with shorter wait times (33% are satisfied compared to 27% last year); the ability to solve issues without having to speak to someone (38% satisfied, up from 33%); and the ability to resolve an issue by speaking to just one person (39% compared to 32%).

So what's going on -- shouldn't happier customers mean more loyal customers? Not necessarily. About one-fourth (24%) of consumers characterize themselves as brand loyal, while an almost equal number (23%) describe themselves as having no loyalty at all. As Mr. Wollan pointed out, not only are consumers now used to switching brands, there is a third factor on the increase that may also help explain the trend: the rise in customer expectation.

About 44% said they expect more, or much more, than they did last year from the brands with which they do business. In 2008, 31% said they expected more than the year before.

"We think the attributes we ask about -- wait times and talking to just one person to resolve issues -- have become table stakes," Mr. Wollan said.

Today's savvy digital customers expect polite and knowledgeable employees or convenient customer-service hours. And while they appreciate and are satisfied with those things, it's not going to stop them from taking their business elsewhere.

Also on the rise is partial switching, defined as when a consumer keeps a brand, but also adds another in the same category, such as buying a second mobile phone from a different provider. Partial switching in 2011 increased in all 10 industries Accenture tracks, from retail and consumer electronics to travel and tourism and banking. That's not only lost business, but more importantly, a loyalty lapse that opens a door to a new brand.

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