LONDON: Customer service and experience are emerging as important factors to rival price in purchase decisions, but that does not appear to be troubling the UK's public transport and train operators, a new study suggests.

In the third annual Customer Experience Survey from service design consultancy Engine, based on an online survey of 1,012 UK adults, not only were public transport and train operators the sector respondents complained about most but their performance was getting worse.

The proportion of consumers citing them as one of the worst offenders jumped six percentage points on 2015 to 38% in 2016.

Utilities followed close behind, up five points to 36%, while broadband/media was up four points to 30%.

Oliver King, co-founder of Engine, acknowledged that public transport and train operators faced unique challenges, but added that "they're moving backwards in terms of public perception, particularly as other, more nimble, sectors are raising the game in how they design the customer experience through advances in thinking and technology".

Businesses such as Airbnb and Uber have disrupted hotels and taxis, he noted. "Who's to say there won't be a major new disruptive business model that takes on public transport?"

King observed that "consumers are increasingly likely to recommend a brand or company based on the service (66%) than they are on price (30%)", so few people will be telling their friends to travel by Britain's railways on either of those counts.

Nor do railways score highly on the traits that customers value in the companies they deal with. Openness/honesty was cited as a top three trait by 50% of people, followed by efficiency (48%) and reliability (44%) – the latter two seeing the biggest jumps in importance over the last year.

At the other end of the CX scale, food service and restaurants were seen as providing the best customer service and experience (cited by just over 45% of consumers as one of the best), narrowly ahead of the hotel and hospitality industry (just under 45%).

Food services (+10 points) and hotels (+8 points) saw the biggest improvements since 2015, taking them both above last year's leader, retail (now 42%).

"Both sectors are rising to the challenge in meeting the increasingly high-standards consumers' demand as a minimum," said King.

Data sourced from Engine; additional content by Warc staff