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At last we might be beginning to see some light at the end of the tunnel. This week has seen some, if not positive, then at least far from disastrous economic forecasts. Whether it is the Bank of England declaring we’ve hit peak interest rates, or credible evidence that the economy may be able to fend off recession (albeit still some way off the growth we need), it feels like we’re beginning to see the green shoots of hope for our Service Nation.

Those signs were evident in our most recent UK Customer Service Index, which found that average levels of financial wellbeing do not appear to have changed significantly since last year. That is not to say, however, that many households aren’t under serious financial strain, and how we as organisations support and manage this through our customer service delivery is critical. The latest economic forecasts chime with our finding that we’re seeing distinct polarisation in levels of financial wellbeing amongst customers. Our Index revealed that nearly half of customers described their financial wellbeing as “good” or “very good”, but almost one in six (15%) felt it was “poor” or very poor.” Around a quarter of customers believe their debt will rise in the next six months, so we should all plan for how our organisations can support them to maintain both their purchasing capacity and wider financial wellbeing.

Whether or not we operate in regulated sectors, we should look beyond measures such as working appropriately with debtors or restructuring payment plans. We owe our customers a level of service regardless of their financial situation. In times of turmoil, our customers should feel confident they can turn to us for practical support. A practical and supportive approach is far more likely to have a positive impact with distressed customers and encourage them to engage with you than empty platitudes from service agents saying they care about their situation without being empowered to help them.

An emotional connection is a deep and personal bond that a customer builds with a company, and it is a relationship that will be long remembered. It goes beyond simply being satisfied with a product or service and encompasses a range of emotions such as comfort, security, and a sense of belonging. Companies that create emotional connections with their customers establish a level of trust that is difficult to replicate and, over time, will translate to an improved bottom line.

We know from our research that the level of trust that customers have in a company is directly correlated to their level of satisfaction. To achieve high levels of satisfaction, companies should proactively reassure their customers and make a conscious effort to look ahead.

It is our responsibility to look to the future for customers struggling to see beyond the next payday. This means putting them first in our thinking, understanding their needs and pain points, and working tirelessly to address them promptly and effectively. We cannot put commercial considerations to one side, so we must continue to have adult conversations about what people can and cannot afford and by having empathy for the one in six who will be living under more financially constrained conditions over the next year.

Our Service Nation is creaking: whether or not we technically enter recession, money is on our mind, and efficiency is key. To encourage those cutting back to return to us in the future, and to reduce our costs in handling difficult conversations today, we should continue to invest in building trust through every transaction. Trust is the foundation of every successful relationship and will remain the critical difference between the highest-performing organisations and the rest.

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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