By Jo Causon, CEO, The Institute of Customer Service
I am increasingly concerned that UK plc may be taking its foot off the accelerator. Too many organisations are focused on short-term reporting and short-term gains, and both often come at the expense of the customer service agenda. On the face of it, the latest UK Customer Satisfaction Index yields the positive finding that the overall customer satisfaction score is up by 0.3 points from the same time last year, to 78.1 (out of 100). However, for the first time, the number of organisations whose score has decreased by two points or more is greater than the number whose score has increased by two points.
My fear is that we are seeing a plateau in customer satisfaction. There is also evidence that, while organisations have got better at dealing with issues and complaints, they are not getting better at dealing with the systemic problems themselves: they are treating the symptoms effectively, but not the causes.
It’s a little bit like trying to use a sticking plaster to fix a broken leg. We all know that we are in a challenging environment at the moment, and the crossroads of Brexit is drawing ever nearer. However, to adapt a famous saying, while all around you are losing their heads, it will be those that focus on the customer experience agenda that will be the winners.
Businesses need to refocus and redouble their efforts to put customer satisfaction front and centre. After all, our research has shown that companies with higher customer satisfaction can reap an employee productivity gain of as much as 114%. While over an eight year period, those organisations with higher customer satisfaction in their sector have experienced nearly 10% higher profitability. Across revenue, profitability and productivity the story is the same: those organisations that perform highest in terms of taking a customer-centric approach fare best.
We only need to look at some of the perennial high performers in the UKCSI, such as Amazon, John Lewis, Greggs and others, to see this. I hope, too, that analysts will begin to put more weight on this. Customer satisfaction levels are a great predictor of what the future is likely to hold for an organisation.
Financial results tell us what has been, the customer experience trajectory tells us where an organisation is heading. With customer expectations around service and personalisation rising all the time, companies face a tough challenge. It is not enough to be ‘good’ or ‘OK’, they have to strive for excellence. Nor is it enough to merely provide efficient, transactional customer services for enquiries and complaints. It is about having a customer service (singular) strategy that puts the customer at the heart of the experience, designing it from the customer point of view rather than according to what suits the organisation’s systems.
A genuinely customer-centric organisation thinks beyond hygiene factors such as transactional service aspects and strives to genuinely hard wire a culture of service into the business. Analysing satisfaction at Board meetings, measuring it, rewarding people who are instrumental in delivering it, developing ways of collaborating with customers, these are some of the traits of an organisation that applies a customer service lens to how they operate.
There are signs that some organisations really get this and are prospering as a result, whilst others are still treating customer service as a tick-box exercise; however make no mistake, those that are hard wiring it into their businesses have clearly woken up to the fact that it can make a long-term difference to performance.