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Small businesses frustrated as suppliers still blame poor customer service on pandemic

A new study of small business owners has revealed that poor customer service from suppliers is hampering their ability to focus on rising costs and inflation.

The research, undertaken by connectivity provider TalkTalk Business, shows that two thirds of SMEs say they work with a supplier that has blamed poor customer service on the pandemic, despite almost six months passing since the last set of Covid-19 restrictions.

It comes as eight in 10 small businesses worry they are facing a ‘cost-of-working crisis’, where the cost of doing business threatens the viability of the business itself.

SME owners say that a better standard of customer service from suppliers will enable them to focus on overcoming the financial challenges posed in the current climate. On average SMEs are spending 16 hours a month on the phone to supplier customer service teams, which almost two thirds say diverts attention away from their core business.

Being on hold, being passed between customers service agents and not having issues dealt with in one call are the most common customer service issues SMEs face.

Just four in 10 independent enterprises say that the customer service they receive has improved since the pandemic, while 64 per cent say poor customer service from their suppliers impacts their bottom line.

Small business owners say improvements in customer service would enable them to focus on tackling the cost-of-working crisis. The most commonly cited examples of standout support are:

Having issues dealt with efficiently
Speaking to a human customer service representative rather than an automated system
Speaking to the same agent throughout
Receiving friendly service
Speaking to an agent who understands their business

TalkTalk Business customer Yifat Castle, Owner of Artisan Gelato and Sorbet Company, Mooka in East Hampshire, said: “As a business that sells a luxury product, we’re apprehensive of what’s to come in the next few months despite a strong start to the year. Our factory is energy intensive, so we know that unfortunately we’re going to be paying higher bills.”

“Good customer service from my suppliers is imperative, so it’s reassuring to know I have it with TalkTalk Business. Speaking to a human to resolve issues quickly is the absolute priority, as it allows me to focus on the things that matter for my customers.”

The research shows that energy, telecoms, and water are the areas where companies are most regularly failing their small business customers.

TalkTalk Business and The Growth Company, an award winning social enterprise that aims to facilitate growth in the small business sector, have partnered to provide advice to small businesses on how they can secure better customer service from their supplier.

Jonathan Kini, Managing Director, Direct Consumer and B2B, said “The past two years have been incredibly challenging for small businesses, who are the beating heart of our economy. We’re proud to partner with The Growth Company to provide advice to small businesses on how they can secure the best customer support to enable them to focus on the issues that matter.”

“TalkTalk Business strives to offer its small business customers the best value packages on the market, combining fast, reliable connectivity with industry-leading customer service.”

Richard Jeffery, National Director of The Growth Company, said “In these challenging times, it is critical business leaders are able to devote their full time and attention to the core issues surrounding their organisation. This report shows the impact of poor customer service, and the amount of time SMEs spend dealing with it, time which would be better spent focused on their business.”

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