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Last week, ‘Permacrisis’ was announced as Collins Dictionary’s word of the year, and it certainly does feel that it sums up 2022. Just this week, we have heard further grim assessments that the nation could be set to enter the longest period of recession in a century. With rising inflation putting pressure on customers and businesses, threats of industrial action challenging multiple corners of our public sector and cases of Covid once again on the rise – it is easy to feel that we face an unending conveyer belt of crises.

It is not an easy time to be a business leader. Dealing with a volatile mix of rising prices, serious staff shortages and ongoing supply chain issues is leaving many organisations with little room for manoeuvre. Yet I fear that in making reactive efforts to tackle short-term issues, we are at real risk of losing the focus we need on the long-term service agenda.

The truth is, it is during the hard times – not the prosperous ones – that leaders truly prove their worth. If we are to weather the economic pressures ahead, and emerge from this feeling of ‘permacrisis’, we need our leaders to remain focused on driving a long-term vision. Now is not the time to lose sight of our innovative and entrepreneurial spirit. Whilst we need to ensure we can trade in the short term and continue to serve customers effectively – only by elevating ourselves out of our day-to-day operational challenges can we really consider what we need to do to secure a prosperous future?

How can we think creatively to address the skill shortages we are facing? What digital solutions are available to drive efficiencies, and how can we upskill our existing workforce to address crucial skills gaps? How can we lean into consumer demand for local and environmentally sustainable products and services, and where must we remain focused on price to maintain customers and remain profitable?

Above all, it is critical that amongst the fire-fighting, we as leaders keep a laser focus on the needs of our customer base, and how they are evolving. In doing so we can make necessary decisions – and take the necessary actions – to future-proof our organisations’ ability to meet these needs now and long into the future. Society and the service nation both now require strong political and business leadership – let’s stand up and deliver it.

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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