South Africa’s worst customer service is to be found from government agencies and utility providers, according to new research released by contact centre experts Interactive Intelligence.

The research was carried out by Actionable Research between February and March this year in seven countries – Australia, Brazil, Germany, North America, South Africa, Sweden and the UK.

Aiming to determine what customers expect from companies in terms of customer service, the surveys looked at customer experiences and expectations when dealing with company contact centres.

The South Africans polled for the global Consumer Survey felt the best customer service came from hotels (61% ranking them among the best, in line with 61% globally), online retail stores (45% versus 51% globally) and banks (41% versus 45% globally).

The worst service came from government agencies (85% ranking them among the worst, versus 52% globally) and utility providers (68% ranking them among the worst versus 34% globally).

South Africans still choose a voice conversation with an agent as their preferred means of interacting with a contact centre. They expect an answer in under three minutes and they want agents to have all the relevant information at hand when they call.

Customers said a major frustration when dealing with a contact centre agent is a lack of knowledge on the part of the agent (79% in SA and 66% globally), being transferred multiple times before finding the right person to help (89% in SA versus 66% globally), or having to repeat information at different points of the interaction (64% in South Africa versus 56% globally).

Another major frustration South Africans cited when calling a contact centre is not being able to understand the agent when speaking to them on the phone (86% versus 75% globally).

Seventy one percent of South Africans, versus 59% globally, say they have had an exceptional customer experience that made them want to tell their family and friends about it.

Deon Scheepers, strategic consultant: EMEA for Interactive Intelligence Africa, says the survey findings indicate that companies and their employees need to move away from the misconception that customer experience is a “touchy-feely, soft” issue.

“Employees must be shown the bottom line impact of bad customer experience and bad customer service,” he says. “Staff need to understand that the company will not exist without the customer, and adopt a ‘the customer pays my salary’ mindset.”