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Business people planning list of rules for company law, regulations concept

With a general election now called for July 4, the UK is fast kicking into in pre-election mode, and campaigns will soon be getting into full swing. Political parties are publishing and promoting their manifestos, as well as formulating their strategies for reinvigorating and growing the economy in what remains a challenging landscape.

Accordingly, at The Institute, we are publishing a Manifesto of our own in which we call on whoever the next government may be to enshrine a service mentality into public policy and thinking. With service a key driver of growth, this is essential for a healthy economy. Some 80% of GDP is generated by the service sector and two-thirds of UK employees spend a significant amount of time dealing with customers.

Quite simply, at a time when achieving economic growth will be the number one priority for whoever the incumbent government is, driving an effective service strategy will be a key contributory factor. Our Manifesto is designed to draw full attention to that and give the service agenda the focus and attention it deserves.

So, what’s in the Manifesto? It is modelled around the four pillars of inspiring a Service Nation, which I have written about in this blog before. We put forward four key principles – and make some specific asks of government (and business) too.

Detailed below are the key components, and over the coming weeks we will share more detail on each one.

1. Encourage organisations to invest in their staff to help upskill all customer-facing employees and their leaders, building a culture of professionalism and service excellence.

Given the importance of the service agenda, it is vital that organisations can upskill their people across the business to recognise and be able to deliver an excellent service experience, with a ‘right first time,’ proactive approach that builds customer trust. This creates loyalty and, in turn, helps organisations to grow, creating more jobs and ultimately stimulating the economy.

Our ask: to support and enable this, we are calling on government to reform the Apprenticeship Levy to allow training for customer service-focused skills and other appropriate skills for specific customer-facing roles to be options for using the Levy. Presently, many organisations contribute to the Levy but are unable to draw on such funding to improve their service delivery and help embed an excellent service culture in their organisations.

2. Review policy which leads corporate governance to steer businesses towards sustainable growth and performance.

Our research has shown that companies with customer satisfaction at least one point higher than their sector average achieved average EBITDA (profitability) of 20.3%, compared to 10.5% for those with average satisfaction that is at least 1 point below the sector average. This clearly demonstrates the business value of pursuing a customer service-oriented strategy – and yet we are seeing an increasing divergence in how organisations are investing in their workforces, particularly in the recruitment and training of customer-facing staff.

Our ask: We believe there needs to be a review of corporate governance codes and business practices, including those which understand, promote, and invest in the value of customer service. The Kingman Review of the corporate governance code was carried out in 2018 and made some good recommendations but these have not come to fruition. The time has come to revisit the code and make sure it is appropriately balanced for today’s business requirements and places a strong emphasis on the duty of businesses to look after and address the needs of customers.

3. Protect vital public-facing workers in every sector from abuse and hostility at work.

Abuse towards customer-facing staff is a shocking and serious issue – and led to The Institute’s Service with Respect campaign, which we were proud to see resulting in government making assaults on public service workers an aggravated offence. But despite this, 42% of workers polled by The Institute in May 2023 had still experienced customer hostility in the past six months. This number urgently needs to be driven down. Additionally, recent government debates on the issue have only focused on retail workers. While the protection of retail staff is hugely important, we need to broaden the discussion out to include frontline staff across every public-facing sector.

Our ask: We are calling on government to introduce guidance for the recording of crimes against front-line workers – across every sector, not just retail – as soon as possible. Understanding the scale and nature of this problem is a vital step towards mitigating it. With the right data, the police, businesses, and policymakers can better allocate resources, as well as develop and evolve informed policies to protect these essential workers. We would also like to see abuse of public facing workers becoming a standalone offence, not just an aggravated one.

4. Ensure regulated sectors consistently deliver the customer service standards the public rightly deserve.

Customers within regulated sectors, including water, energy, and housing, do not typically have the same levels of choice that exist in other non-regulated markets. But satisfaction in regulated sectors has fallen far below the levels we should expect. We want to see a focus on customers really moving centre-stage in regulated sectors, with increased measurement of customer satisfaction, greater consistency in how it is measured, a greater focus on customer outcomes, more benchmarking of customer performance including against organisations in other sectors, and more regular reporting of results. We recognise that this can be a difficult area, but there are frameworks and accreditations such as The Institute’s ServiceMark standard that can help.

Our ask: We would like to see it mandated that organisations in regulated sectors must report on the customer experience and levels of customer satisfaction. We would like to see the customer experience being benchmarked both within and outside of sector.

Campaigning for Service

Rest assured that we will be strenuously promoting our Manifesto to political parties and policy makers at this pivotal time. There is a real opportunity to reset the dial and put service at the heart of a successful strategy for growth. It’s what we all want to see, benefiting the economy, businesses, customers and staff.

It will also make the UK a more attractive place to do business – attracting more international investment. It’s a true win-win – we will be campaigning just as hard as the political parties in the coming months and beyond!

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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