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It has been interesting to observe the growth and evolution of customer service over the past decade, and none more so than the past two years. The pandemic served to highlight the true value of those working in service roles across our economy – from hospitality to retail, utilities to travel. They quite literally kept the nation’s lights on and safeguarded our way of life through one of the most difficult periods in our history. Fast forward to the present day, and against a backdrop of labour shortages, ‘the great resignation’ and widening skills gaps, more focus needs to be put on attracting highly trained, skilled and committed people to careers in the service economy.

The role of a customer service professional is now much more complex (and arguably, more interesting and fulfilling) than ever before. The growth of digital has meant that in 2022 the role now requires a complex blend of technical and interpersonal skills. It is not enough to simply be able to use the technology; customer service professionals increasingly need to understand when to deploy it, how customers want to interact and use it – and when a genuinely ‘human intervention’ is required. Our research demonstrates that where activities are complex or highly emotive human connection is still the most effective form of interaction. This requires a range of interconnected skills in communication, empathy and emotional intelligence, problem-solving capabilities alongside strong digital capabilities.

We find ourselves living in a highly uncertain and fractured world, and as a customer, trusting a business and its employees is of growing importance. Our latest UKCSI found that the leading reason customers prefer excellent service, even if it costs more, is because they trust an organisation (33.8%) – and this will continue to be critical in supporting customers through the challenging years ahead. Strong customer service is a key driver of trust, and it is therefore crucial for organisations to focus on their service offering – ensuring service professionals are equipped with skills to make a meaningful connection with customers.

Careers Week should act as a reminder for organisations to take note of the shifting role of the service professional and assess what it means for their business. I believe we need a greater understanding of and respect for the role – and this means ensuring these employees are paid a fair wage for the work they do, along with clear paths for development and career progression.

Whilst the profession has evolved, we need to think more smartly about new ways of training and development, as an integrated part of the role, varying the delivery and considering how these skills interface with other aspects of the business and vice versa. I think we should also challenge ourselves in asking do we make a virtue of having a qualification, do we see this as a way to help people progress or use it as part of our recruitment selection process? Our evidence is clear where we invest in our people and their development, the more productive the individual is and more likely to remain working for the organisation. It is essential for the future of our service economy that we invest in attracting and retaining skilled workers to allow our profession to thrive. After all, without new talent, the customer experience will suffer, and business performance will follow.

To mark Careers week, we are raising awareness of our professional and management qualifications that we offer to ensure our members have access to the most up to date and relevant training for the new era of digitally-enabled customer experience.

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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