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By Jo Causon, CEO, The Institute of Customer Service

The Institute’s latest annual conference produced fascinating debate focusing on how organisations can develop game-changing strategies, in what is becoming an increasingly unpredictable environment. The working environment is becoming ever more complex and with this as the context for many business decisions, most of the speakers emphasised a need for clarity of purpose and leadership. The speed with which things move was underlined by the sudden Facebook crisis hitting the headlines just a couple of weeks after the conference.

Whatever you believe, or whatever becomes clear, around the relationship between Facebook, Cambridge Analytica and various political campaigns, the short-term damage to Facebook’s reputation was visible in the impact on its share price. The long-term damage is as yet unknown, but clearly the episode has hit the levels of trust its users have in the organisation. Whether Facebook knew or didn’t know about the data issue, it faces awkward questions. If it knew, how could it allow that? If it didn’t know, why not and what does that say about its corporate governance?

For me, the episode echoes some of the recurrent themes from our conference. One of the issues organisations of all kinds face is that the external environment is evolving so fast. It’s easy to get swept along and make decisions. Yet, by far the better approach is stepping back from and thinking before pressing ‘go’.

It’s not about slowing things down for the sake of it or being resistant to change, so much as about ensuring that we are making the right decisions at the right time. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. We all live in an ever more ambiguous world where things are not always black and white, but instead are usually pretty grey. So how can organisations navigate their way through this? In many ways, it’s actually quite simple.

There is a natural tendency to try to do too many things at once. Yet it’s vital to stay focused and keep your key priorities for the next six months permanently in view. It’s about clarity and communication, taking every opportunity to communicate your goals and objectives through the organisation so that everyone is clear where they are trying to get to.

But perhaps more important than anything is ensuring that the behaviours in your organisation are right. In other words, behaviours that support the achievement of your purpose and values; behaviours that will contribute to creating a better customer experience. These behaviours start at the top, but they are just as important on a peer-to-peer basis. Everybody in the organisation must be accountable, and take ownership and responsibility for their actions.

There must be a culture where anybody can challenge anyone else and pull them up for behaviours that are out of line. Part of these behaviours should be taking a constructive approach to issues to collaboratively find solutions: building on things rather than knocking them down. It’s looking for the ‘and’ rather than for the ‘but’ or ‘however’. Trust is fragile and once it’s lost, it’s extremely hard to regain. It is at the heart of the service agenda.

I believe that in these frenetic times, it’s more important than ever to stand back regularly and ask yourself whether a decision is the right one: will it build trust and improve the customer experience, and is it founded on the behaviours that you are trying to instil across the business?

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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