Worry-free solutions on homeowners’ minds

Adapting to a new landscape

As we near the one-year anniversary of the pandemic in many parts of the world, billions of people are still completely or partially confined at home and under curfews because of COVID-19. In that context, the nature of consumer centricity has evolved.

The slow drip of a tap, inconsistent temperatures achieved by HVAC systems, or the varying level of service quality offered by some providers may have been tolerable when customers spent less time at home but they’ve now become less bearable.

Every small aspect of home life is now being scrutinised under a microscope and suppliers are no exception. HomeServe’s latest research shows customers want worry-free solutions as they value their home comforts more than ever and look for services that put them firmly at the heart of their providers’ concerns.

The survey of 8,000 households conducted in 11 countries around the world shows consumers’ concerns are similar to previous years, and include worrying about breakdowns and the quality of repairs.

That said their needs now come with a heightened sense of urgency with almost 75% of homeowners stating they expect companies to do more to keep them safe. This is combined with two-thirds who want more informative communications (66%) and higher levels of service (63%).

Rising to the challenge

COVID-19 has made customers more demanding with almost two-thirds (63%) saying they expect companies to provide higher levels of service. While this puts pressure on businesses, it also presents them with a great opportunity.

Indeed, 75% of customers feel positive about companies who make their life easy and give them peace of mind, according to the research. They feel especially positive about brands that offer “good value for money” (78%), have an “excellent customer service reputation” (75%), and are perceived as “experts in their field” (75%).

This provides companies with a roadmap in challenging times as it shows how they can get the most benefits for their effort.

Top concerns

While breakdowns, poor repairs, and inconvenience remain top concerns for customers, they’re made that much more complicated by COVID-19. With families spending more time at home for rest, work, and play, it’s not surprising to find out that almost a third of homeowners have experienced breakdowns more frequently in the last year. In India, that number rises to 50%.

Leaking pipes and taps, which might have been tolerable in the past but unbearable these days, account for 77% of issues reported. Other breakdowns include blocked drains (32%) and hot water/heating/cooling system problems (37%).

At a time when there are very real health risks associated with letting tradespeople in to conduct repairs in their homes, 77% of customers say they’re very concerned with it being done properly.

Generating positive sentiments

What can providers do to acknowledge and respond to their customers’ concerns in a way that generates positive feelings during these challenging times and in the future? Three things come to mind.

Customers want:

  • Honesty: Being honest means delivering on what you promised. This can include providing a guarantee for the work done, and using qualified and professional tradespeople that show up when they say they will.

  • Fairness: Customers want to be treated fairly. They want to understand the benefits of your propositions and be able to compare between providers.

  • Good value: Customers are more interested in getting good value for their money than they are about the cheapest option. Part of that value includes reassurance and convenience.

The art of being customer-centric

Identifying the top concerns of households is a crucial first step on the road to customer centricity but it’s only half the battle. It’s what happens after that will determine customers’ perceptions of a brand and company.

Communication is key

At any given time, communication is an important tool in a company’s arsenal to provide customer-centric service but it’s even more important during a pandemic with 76% of customers saying companies should be easier to research online.

Customers have very specific views about how they want to interact with companies and what they want to learn about. Contrary to popular belief, we found they actually don’t mind being contacted by a provider as long as the information is useful and relevant (66%).

HomeServe’s survey shows that two-thirds of customers (64%) find communications about home services very (or extremely) useful. This is particularly true when it includes pricing information or presents a programme that will translate into financial and time savings (such as home assistance membership). Friendly reminders about maintenance are also very popular (62%), especially with families with children and the under 35s.

While it varies from country to country, 57% of customers still prefer the telephone overall, especially when they can speak to a human operator (66%) in their own country (61%). This is followed by email at 44%.

A strong core

In addition to establishing and maintaining good communication, providers must also look inward to build a strong core. Indeed, customer centricity starts on the inside. Staff must play the role of champions and embrace the belief that every customer is at the heart of everything they do.

That’s because employees are instrumental in:

  • Receiving, handling, and analysing complaints: Complaints are an opportunity to turn a negative into a positive, and to highlight something that needs improvement. Considering 67% of homeowners say they would be likely to stay if a complaint is dealt with very well, it’s an important success factor.

  • Embodying and promoting values: Customers change their views positively 42% more often because of an interaction with an individual staff member. As representatives of the company or brand, employees must be given the tools and training to “put their best foot forward”.

  • Broadcasting your voice in the community:

  • HomeServe strongly believes that “being a good neighbour” is a core principle of customer centricity. This includes recruiting local tradespeople, running charitable activities and supporting green initiatives. Employees are a big part of their community involvement. It also includes caring for the elderly or other vulnerable populations, which 33% of respondents say would make them more likely to use a company.

Putting it all together

Customers are more demanding than ever and for good reasons. In the last year, they have faced unprecedented challenges that have led them to rethink many of the things they used to take for granted. Their expectations have changed and they want more from their providers, especially peace of mind (75%). That’s the main discovery of this year’s survey.

Companies have had to navigate uncharted waters as well. For example, HomeServe had to transition its 6,000 employees from office to remote work within two weeks of the pandemic hitting. In addition to organizational issues, many utilities and their partners have had to provide more services with an increase of 30% in breakdowns no doubt brought on by the fact that everyone has been confined at home.

Consumer-centric companies are better suited to this type of volatile situation because their focus is already firmly on customers and they already have the tools in place to respond and adapt to changing needs. As such, they’re able to provide assistance when it’s most needed. And, according to our survey, a brand that’s able to fix problems in the home, delights and is viewed more favourably by 75% of our respondents.

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