Whenever, wherever, however

2005

Britain's 24/7 'always-on' culture has transformed the habits of consumers but failed to erode demand for traditional service values, according to new research by the Henley Centre.

The report, commissioned by BT, highlights the growing demand for 24/7 services, with two-thirds of consumers seeing round-the-clock supermarket opening as a positive trend.

Nearly one sixth (15 per cent) of shopping now takes place in what used to be "after-hours" - between 6pm and 9am. The UK is also revealed as the biggest spender of 'on-the-move' food in Europe – a quarter of all eating now takes place on the go.

Other 'on-demand' services, such as internet banking and shopping, have seen significant growth. The proportion of consumers shopping online has leapt from one in five in 2000 to just over half (53 per cent) last year. Four out of 10 of those surveyed now use internet banking, compared to only one in 10 (12 per cent) in 2001.

But this hunger for always-on services has not reduced consumer expectations. In fact, the report says, a 'Demand Delta' is emerging between customer demands and the ability of organisations to satisfy these.

The research found that personalised services, such as those offered online by Amazon, have boosted the appetite for more targeted services. The internet has also heralded a new age in 24/7 service, putting business under growing pressure to deliver the right information, product or service whenever, wherever and however it is required.

The internet is not always enough though, with almost half (45 per cent) of consumers wanting a phone agent available to talk to them whilst they complete a transaction on a company website.

Slow responses to phone calls are not tolerated by consumers either: when faced with an engaged tone, a third will try another company and a quarter give up altogether.

The importance of good customer experience is clear from the fact that almost half of those questioned switched a service provider in the past year, two-thirds of whom would have remained with their original supplier if its customer service had been good.

Other consumers are more apathetic. Four out of 10 said they 'can't be bothered to switch' even if a better deal is available.

But despite the desire for on-demand service, consumers have reservations about how far they interact with organisations. Trust remains a major issue, with 37 per cent professing to trust banks, and only 17 per cent trusting insurance companies.

Service providers can take consolation however from the fact that government is trusted by just 15 per cent and political parties in general by just 6 per cent of those surveyed.

Security also creates fears about sharing information. A quarter of UK adults claims to know someone who has had their identity taken or misused, or has experienced this for themselves.

But despite this, only a third of consumers are taking adequate measures to avoid becoming a victim of identity fraud themselves.

"The rate at which consumer expectations continue to grow is staggering," said Gary Bullard, managing director of BT Global Services.

"A big challenge for businesses is to replicate this quality of service and innovation across all channels, including the web and the phone.

"Unfortunately, not all companies have developed this level of sophistication and as a result we are seeing the emergence of this 'Demand Delta' between consumer expectation and the actual level of service.

"Unless companies address this, their customers will become isolated, resulting in reduced revenues and internal staff frustrations."