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Navigating change – whether social, economic, or political – has been a constant theme for business leaders for many years, and adaptability with a heavy dose of pragmatic and values-led approach has proven to be an asset.

Amidst all this change, however, the value of exceptional customer service cannot be overstated. As I discussed in Management Today last week, service is fundamentally a leadership issue.

With services constituting 80% of our GDP, we are undeniably a service nation. In a service economy, delivering substandard service equates to delivering a substandard product. Despite this, our UK Customer Satisfaction Index indicates a worrying decline in customer service levels across all sectors.

Our leaders are responsible for service excellence

The responsibility for reversing this trend rests with leaders and their boards. They must prioritise, invest in, and train for improved service levels. This includes leveraging technology wisely and understanding the best applications for the right service-led outcomes – this way increased productivity and better financial results will follow.

This is all well and good on paper, but what does this mean in practice? First, businesses should ensure their boards include individuals with customer service expertise. Boards should regularly review a comprehensive set of customer service metrics, not just single-metric net promoter or customer satisfaction scores. These should encompass contextualised data from customer interactions, root cause and sentiment analysis, complaint trends, resolution times, and ‘right first time’ performance.

One crucial measure is customer lifetime value, which offers insight into the ROI of service investments and the true cost of poor service.

But measurement alone is insufficient – it needs to be acted on. CEOs need to hold the executive team accountable for customer service within their KPIs. Everyone in the team – from the CFO to the Marketing Director and of course the CCO (Chief Customer Officer) – need to own the opportunities and challenges arising from the customer experience.

Embedding service by listening to your employees

Beyond measurement and accountability, embedding a service culture throughout the organisation is crucial. This means investing in both people and technology. Well-trained, motivated customer service staff, combined with intelligent technology are essential for enhancing customer experience and improving service metrics. This is not new, but in some cases, we appear to be considering the service agenda as a nice to have or something we do when we are not under pressure to cut costs. Measuring service experiences continually and consistently across an organisation is never easy, as there are many variables involved. But it is essential, and the data it provides can tell you a lot more about how your business is actually functioning more broadly.

We should also look to our colleagues – especially those dealing with customers across the whole organisation and at all levels. Our Service Leadership research shows that 54% of employees believe the best route to improved customer service is through motivating and engaging staff. Yet, fewer than half feel their CEO and board listen to the ideas of customer-facing staff.

A call for service leadership

All of this culminates in a call for leadership, with boards and executives prioritising customer service, holding themselves accountable, driving cultural change, and using technology strategically.

Most importantly, organisations should develop their people’s potential and strengthen leadership quality at all levels. Customer service staff need to feel heard and empowered by their managers and leaders.

Reflecting on how to achieve this is imperative to ensure that our staff, organisations, and economy can realise their full potential.

Jo Causon

Jo joined The Institute as its CEO in 2009. She has driven membership growth by 150 percent and established the UK Customer Satisfaction Index as the country’s premier indicator of consumer satisfaction, providing organisations with an indicator of the return on their service strategy investment.

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