Alex’s blog: Has the regulatory backstop protected consumers during Covid-19?

3 min read
October 09, 2020

It’s fair to say I’ve been chomping at the bit for the team at Resolver to delve into our data to see how businesses have fared so far in the eyes of their customers during Covid-19. Originally we were planning to look at the performance of individual companies, but upon investigating the 57,000 strong data set, we found something even more striking at the sector level. 

The sectors with the strongest regulations, and arguably regulators, have shown the most resilience when it comes to their customer satisfaction over this period. And banks (yes you heard that right) have beaten all other sectors netting the highest customer satisfaction score this year so far. 

I have been championing the consumer for more than a decade and I have to admit I never thought the day would come where I would be saying that. So, why has that happened?

Low base

Looking at our latest analysis, it’s clear the essential, regulated utilities are holding steady for customer satisfaction. But before we start celebrating this too much, it’s worth taking a step back and remembering that while consistent, the rate of satisfaction among consumers in energy, broadband and even banking still remains disappointingly low. 

So, while regulation seeks to protect consumers and hopefully ensures a degree of conformity and compliance, that does not necessarily translate into good customer outcomes such as ‘great complaints handling’ or ‘great service’. But it would appear during the pandemic consumers have welcomed the certainty and clarity regulation affords and scored these sectors accordingly. 

It’s also interesting that we have seen a resurgence in support for the big banks during this period – perhaps the high street presence helped. However, I think a big part of this success may not actually be down to the banks themselves – more likely it’s Government policy and the Financial Conduct Authority swinging into action to protect the consumer that has positively influenced confidence in the sector during the pandemic. 

Banks were required to rush in measures such as freezing changes to overdraft interest rates and allowing credit card and mortgage payment holidays, to help shore up struggling consumers. Rising satisfaction cannot then be coincidental when noting that many of these measures were quickly implemented and communicated with a reasonable amount of clarity in March. 

Clear breaches

In stark contrast is the travel sector, where it has been a virtual wild west. With prevalent bad service and in some cases clear breaches of consumer law, levels of customer satisfaction for the sector has unsurprisingly tanked. The scores paint a very sorry state of affairs for the sector overall.

In my opinion, here we have seen a lack of focus on protecting the consumer, poor communications and a woeful lack of pace from the Government, regulators and some businesses. 

It’s not all bad news though – despite these failures we can see that the industry average for customer satisfaction hides the variable performance of individual companies. So, while Ryanair and Virgin saw some of the biggest declines, American Airlines, Jet2 and Qantas are the only companies in the sector with customer satisfaction scores higher than 60%.  Jet2 in particular saw its score rise by a third compared to 2019 proving that even during a pandemic businesses can stand out from the crowd and Covid-19 is no excuse for poor service quality.

Delight your customers

This does all leave me wondering whether we see regulation at its best in a crisis? 

Consumer protections do become more important. Suddenly the basics such as being treated fairly and being able to actually contact a company are not taken for granted. And although innovation has undoubtedly been fuelling the response from those businesses and sectors which have performed well, it’s customer service focused innovation, not the latest ‘trendy’ technology.

So, how can we, regulators and businesses do more of this outside of a crisis – as it’s clear there is a way to delight your customers and gain a commercial competitive advantage? Regulators need to come up with interventions that have clear consumer outcomes, such as those we saw in finance during Covid-19, as this has been a success.

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