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Our membership comprises a good mix of private and public sector organisations, with about a 75%/25% split. This is important because of the opportunity to apply learning across sectors, which is what consumers do; they don’t compare their customer experience in sector but rather from brand to brand.

When we review service levels within the public sector, we should acknowledge that it has a particularly complex set of challenges and responsibilities when it comes to customer service.

When we experience poor service in the private sector, most often, we can find a different provider with a different approach or service proposition. When things go wrong in our dealings with a public sector body, the luxury of choice often doesn’t exist.

Much has been discussed in the run-up to this week’s local and mayoral elections about the role of local and national public services – from policing and the NHS to schools and the tax office. But how are these institutions managing when it comes to customer service?

I’ve discussed at length in these pieces previously how customer satisfaction is under pressure across the board. For the public sector, some of the challenges faced in providing great service are elevated – from funding barriers through to skills shortages and a higher churn of talent post-pandemic.

A public sector in need of better customer service

Our January 2024 UK Customer Satisfaction Index highlighted these challenges. Satisfaction with National Public Services averages 73.6, 2.4 points below the all-sector average. This was echoed by a recent study from Ipsos showing that 8 in 10 Brits thought public services had gotten worse over the past 5 years.

The sector’s score also marked a 1.5-point decrease year-on-year, and a 3.7-point decrease from its highest score of 77.3 in July 2021. Customer satisfaction with local services sits lower still on 70.6, 5.4 points below the all-sector average.

However, our research also illustrates where these organisations should be looking to improve. For example, our latest Index showed that the public sector saw the biggest drop in complaint handling satisfaction year-on-year. Customers also highlighted finding the right person to contact, speed of response, and friendlier staff as key issues to improve.

Public sector businesses should look to address this gap by focusing on providing as many touchpoints as possible for customers, as well as training staff so that they can solve problems quickly and offer helpful support.

Just like every sector of the economy, public bodies’ capacity to deliver excellent service is critical to a fair and cohesive society. It therefore needs proper attention and investment, and it needs positioning as a key strategic driver.

Amongst this mixed picture, there are standout examples of good service

There are some exemplary examples of fantastic service within the public sector. Through my personal experiences with the NHS, I have received unbelievable service, which I wrote about last year.

And when renewing my passport recently, it was impossible to fault the end-to-end journey that offered clear guidance on photograph requirements and multiple options for turnaround speed and delivery. Best of all, they kept me updated throughout by email and text message and delivered ahead of schedule.

There are some things the private sector could learn from these organisations, such as the importance of human empathy, giving clear options to provide genuine choice and the simple effectiveness of communicating simple progress reports at key milestones.

Flying the flag for customer service across the UK

For some time, I have talked about building a ‘Service Nation’ – a realm where exceptional service underpins every sector, buoying the economy itself. After all, the service industry constitutes 80% of the UK’s GDP.

The need for a greater focus on service across the public sector is clear. Central to long-term customer satisfaction will be the ability of these organisations to reinvigorate and maximise the talent and resources already at their disposal.

More than this, at a time when restating and redefining the value of customer service could not be more needed, this is a chance for the public sector to lead the way in reversing the downward trend in customer satisfaction across the UK.

That is why I urge public sector organisations to make customer service a priority – not just during times of increased scrutiny, but as a strategic imperative to help power the UK economy back onto a stronger footing. By empowering their staff and putting the customer first, they will not only improve their own service delivery, but also set a positive example for other sectors to follow.

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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