The jury is still out on how consumers feel about companies using their personal information – but most agree that good service is important.

These are among the results of a large-scale study of more than 18 000 consumers in nine countries, including South Africa, by Verint Systems. Conducted with support from analyst and consultancy firm Ovum and research company Opinium, the survey highlights the importance of quick, easy and personalised service in securing their trust. It additionally uncovers deep divisions over attitudes in how personal data is used to deliver this service.

The research was carried out by Opinium on behalf of Verint. It found that while almost nine in 10 respondents (89%) agreed that good service makes them feel more positive about the brands they engage with, nearly half (48%) also said they are suspicious about how their data is used. Only one fifth of respondents agreed they want companies to understand their mood and cater to them accordingly. However, 43% admitted that when companies make mistakes, they are more forgiving to those they believe understand them.

“This study is a wake-up call for brands looking to revamp their customer service to cater to today’s more demanding and better-informed customers,” says Jeremy Cox, principal analyst: customer engagement at Ovum. “While brands have the ability to precision-target highly personalized communications for every single customer, the study shows what people around the world actually value most are the basics – questions answered with minimal effort on their part.

This study also explored the impact of poor service on switching behaviour, as well as the benefits brands can reap if they get it right. Though cheaper pricing is the single biggest motivation for switching (31%), rude staff (18%) and too many mistakes (16%) are second and third on the list.

The research also found that good experiences can have a powerful impact on customers’ attitudes to brands. In fact, 61% of respondents said they would tell friends and family about their experiences, while more than one in four (27%) reported that they would sign up to the company’s loyalty scheme. Only one in seven (15%) didn’t think good service would change their behaviour in any way.

“The new rule book of customer service has less to do with personalization at all costs, and everything to do with making life easier for people,” comments Dave Capuano, global vice-president: integrated marketing at Verint Enterprise Intelligence Solutions. “On the whole, consumers have no patience with firms that don’t get the basics right. This is a challenge for providers and an opportunity to help ensure frontline staff have information at their fingertips to deliver a quick and seamless service relevant to each customer’s individual needs. Staff should be empowered to make decisions and ‘go the extra mile’ when required.”