Traditionally, communicating that your organisation is effectively governed has not attracted nearly as much attention as the other two elements of ESG with customers anyway. However, consumers are beginning to see this as a critical area of importance. This may be down to our increasing need for reassurance or concern that all is not what it seems, a need for a sense of fair play or an expectation that an organisation will do the right thing and, in my opinion, rightly so.
A company that is well run, has the necessary checks and balances, and acts in the best interest of all its stakeholders, is a fundamental driver of long-term success. Simple to say but hard to do, but if we are to create a fairer society and less polarisation, we must try to do this.
One governance challenge is sometimes prioritising needs at any given time – shareholders and financial returns, over other stakeholders – including customers and wider society. This is often exasperated by a short-term approach to business and although not easy to navigate, something I think we all need to reflect on – as investors, shareholders, consumers and business leaders.
The investor community has long recognised the link between ESG and long-term financial returns. Our own research shows that a fifth of customers have stopped using an organisation because it does not treat its employees fairly, and more than a third believe that helping customers make sustainable choices about products and services ought to be integral to all customer service standards. Our latest UKCSI also shows that 66% of consumers believe that in response to the current cost of living crisis, shareholders and investors should take lower dividends.
What is fair to one may seem unfair to another, and refereeing this is often complex and challenging for any business leader but a vital part of the role of customer service professionals and business leaders. Checks and balances are required in any society: the new consumer duty in financial services and placing fans at the heart of football reform go beyond the traditional “unfair terms” enshrined in company law, encompassing a wider focus on ensuring organisations act fairly.
I believe that what is happening in football and banking is only the start, and as customer service leaders we are duty-bound to lead the debate on the minimum standards customers should expect, and what the implications will be on this. From the water in our taps to how our money is invested, every customer should expect that their supplier is acting not only in their own best interests, but also in a way that engenders trust and builds a strong economy for the benefit of all.
The Government, media and business play central roles in shaping society and building a better future. Societal norms – much like customer expectations constantly changing. As customer service leaders, we must be alive to this and act as honest brokers within our organisations. We have a responsibility to listen not only to our most vocal customers, but also those less willing to speak out. Acting in the best interests of all to shape a clear ethical approach to service and governance is vital to unlocking future growth. I know it is often dangerous to put our heads above the parapet and fight for what we believe – but the core skills in any customer service professional enable us to do this. Listening with an open mind, being tolerant, looking for solutions that cross divides and focusing on purpose and outcome are all key skills that will help us succeed; being the voice of both the customer and the business is a unique and brilliant position that any customer service professional can play.
In the coming months, we will be undertaking a specific piece of research into the area of Governance, and I look forward to sharing those results with you.