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It was a pleasure to welcome so many of you to our Annual Conference this week, and I hope you came away from the day feeling as inspired and motivated as I did. The conference’s theme – centred around shaping our new Service Nation has never felt more pertinent.

By coming together to build a culture of service – a recurrent theme for our conference speakers – there is no doubt we can create a more productive, sustainable and successful future for us all.

As I addressed in my conference speech, the volatility and upheaval of the past 18 months has impacted us all; as organisations, as leaders and as consumers – and we’ve seen significant shifts in consumer attitudes and behaviours. The lingering impact of Covid, combined with the ongoing cost of living crisis has driven deep levels of polarisation across our society. Whilst many customers are thinking more carefully about their spending, searching for the best deals and reducing impulse purchases, a large proportion are willing to pay more to guarantee excellent service.

The continued rapid advance of technology and emergence of a new breed of AI-driven tools present an opportunity for managing and improving the customer experience – and the key lies in finding the appropriate balance of human and technology.

As a society, we are becoming increasingly aware of the ethical practices of organisations. More customers and employees expect organisations to demonstrate a strong social purpose and positive societal impact. They are paying closer attention to areas such as an organisation’s treatment of its employees and sustainability credentials when deciding where to spend their hard-earned money.

All these trends will be critical to defining and building our service nation in the coming years. As we heard throughout the conference, approaches to the customer experience differ across organisations and sectors, but for me, there are four key pillars on which our Service Nation can be defined.

First, treating customer service as a business asset and a source of value can deliver stronger financial results and help retain purpose and focus in a challenging environment.

Second, treating customer service as a respected profession – offering far more than a ‘stopgap’ job but a respected and vital career path encompassing a range of complex roles and skill sets.

Third – using customer service as a driver for a fairer society; taking decisions that genuinely consider the customer’s needs and balancing these against the requirements of shareholders and other stakeholders.

And finally, acknowledging customer service as key to our nation’s long-term growth and prosperity; placing service at the heart of decision and policymaking in areas such as skills, training and apprenticeships.

As our speakers so articulately laid out, a prosperous Service Nation will not be built overnight – nor by one-off initiatives or short-term fixes. True change requires a cultural shift within our organisations, and we all have a role in driving this forward. In coming together to influence the perception of service as a vital lever of financial growth and reputation, we can deliver the step change we need for a stronger economy, more rewarding work for all, and a better society.

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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