The results of the winners of the Ask Afrika National Customer Delight Index (Orange Index) reveal exceptional excellence in the food retail and petrochemical industries but a definite slump in the medical aid sector with regards to overall customer service. 

The telephonic survey, which took over two months to complete with about 6 000 South African respondents, was conducted by Ask Afrika’s Stellenbosch-based call centre, in order to ascertain which of the 65 service companies ranked top in South Africa, and unpacking what makes those company’s service strategies so successful.
The survey highlighted twelve industry sectors in the country, ranking the top service channels and allowed for a comparison of South African service against international standards.
Andrea Rademeyer, CEO of Ask Afrika, explains the level of service quality in the country. “We know that a growing and changing economy has also translated into an evolving market for the South African provider. Up to now, South African companies hid behind wide market segments accompanied by diverse service delivery expectations. However, today’s consumer is more sophisticated in terms of service expectations due to a greater variety of choice and increased competition.”
The Orange Index revealed that the best service channels are not necessarily call centres.
Maria Petousis, Senior Business Analyst at Ask Afrika, explains: “The hunt for personalised, responsive service leads the consumer towards the branch channel for most industries. Call centres usually fail, as the processes serve to alienate the agent from the consumer.
"The Index results drives us to ask what the purpose of the call center channel initially was – infrastructure saving or de-personalisation of the service interaction. In addition, increasing choices create a change in customer expectations and consumers have become more value conscious. This enforces the importance of positive word of mouth.”
Rademeyer warns that delighting the customer will become an increasingly difficult task in the predicted future for all industry sectors.
“Changing technology and generation factors imply changes in customer expectations and quality service becomes a hygiene factor. An increasing plethora of choice for all increases competition and places a new emphasis on customer retention.
"Companies need to take action to address their customer service concerns, and can include improving processes, improving staff loyalty and training, and improved monitoring and control. What these actions have in common is that they aim to address the root causes. An improvement in our ability to take action on service quality is vital to success.”
The overall winner of the survey was clothing retailer, PEP which beat out well-known brands such as OUTsurance, Mercedes-Benz and Standard Bank.
“Our survey revealed that PEP is performing exceptionally well on all of South Africa’s service strengths,” says Rademeyer. “Friendly and professional staff and overall value for customers and knowledgeable staff, all contribute to making the PEP brand the top ranking brand in customer service, exceeding customer expectations in all of its areas.”
Vodacom won in the telecommunications industry sector, OUTsurance won in the short-term insurance category and Sanlam in the long-term insurance category. Food retailer Woolworths came out tops in its sector, Nando’s, KFC and Steers equally in the fast food category, while Mercedes-Benz ranked top in the automotive industry and British Airways winning in the airline sector.
Old Mutual Bank also won top place for service in the banking industry, beating out former winner ABSA, while Caltex was rated as the top company in petro-chemical industry. This year, Medihelp outperformed the industry average by far, seeing the medical aid industry offering a big service performance variation.
“The survey also revealed that the top automotive winners offer acceptable service variations, better than those of airline, banking, telecommunications and petro-chemical companies. In addition, the clutch of insurance industries (long/short-term and medical aid) is clustered together into equally bad service while telecommunications companies are losing the service game.
"Unfortunately, according to consumers, SAA contributes to lowering service performance standards of the Airline industry. In the Food Retail industry, increased personalised interaction has a positive impact on overall experiences of delight.
"There also seems to be a huge service performance variation between petro-chemical winners seeing “Petroljoggies” driving overall customer loyalty.
"Unfortunately, evident in the survey is that Government service perception is increasingly negative, this includes vital services, such as Police Services,” adds Rademeyer.
The survey showed that companies rarely make a corporate service promise to their consumers – service expectations are driven by brand promise, word of mouth and past experiences. Only three companies seemed to be able to deliver consistently on brand promise: Vodacom, Outsurance and KFC.
In addition, roughly 40% of customers have different service expectations from different companies and industries which make companies sensitive to churn due to poor service.
“Industries most exposed to churn due to service are airlines, short-term insurance, automotive and petrol-chemical. Conversely, those industries are more likely to attract customers with good service,” says Rademeyer.