This year’s first meeting of the Institute of Customer Service’s Vice Presidents was joined by the group’s latest addition, Jonathan Preece – CEO of public sector shared services provider, UK Shared Business Services (UK SBS).
“I was really pleased to accept the invitation to join the Institute’s Vice Presidents’ group last autumn. While the role has a remit to support and promote the work of the Institute, it is a great opportunity for UK SBS. I have held a lifelong passion for customer service from growing up in the family store, to now leading UK SBS to hopefully become the outstanding service provider I know it can be”, said Jonathan.
The Institute of Customer Service uses the Vice Presidents (VPs) as thought leaders, and ‘critical friends’ for the institute’s drive to improve the customer experience and business performance of organisations in the UK. The 19 VPs represent a diverse mix of senior executives from a broad spectrum of business sectors. Their collective experience includes some of the most well-known and reputable brands in the UK.
While discussion is candid and bound by confidentiality, Jonathan commented on the quality of interaction, “I was impressed by the ‘grounded realism’ of the meeting. By which I mean the approach of it was very open and sharing and gave me assurance of discussion being grounded in what was realistic and achievable. Every organisation had its own challenges to overcome regarding their customer service focus.”
With ever-growing pressure in the public sector to protect front line services while reducing cost, UK SBS is taking on an important role in helping the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, and its partner organisations, deliver savings and efficiencies. Indeed, in the five years the organisation has been working with the UK Research Councils, it has delivered over £100 million in savings through procurement alone, and was able to reduce its annual charge by £700,000 last year.
Jonathan says good customer service remains critical to the current and future plans of UK SBS in this arena, so that such efficiency gains do not compromise quality. The VP role is an opportunity to gain insight into innovation and the latest thinking from the thought leaders in excellent customer service across different sectors.
“In just one meeting I have already gained some further insight into how and where I can take some best practice into UK SBS. For example, the UK Customer Service Index, and key drivers that deliver customer service improvement, were particularly useful and I’ll be looking at how we can weave this insight into developing our customer focus over 2014/15.”
Jonathan’s experience has much to offer this forum too. With a distinctly private sector background working with well known brands like Gillette and Kimberley Clark and the past three years working in the public sector, Jonathan’s experience typifies UK SBS’ public sector hybrid character. “It’s an unusual perspective we often take for granted here”, he remarks.
“Commercial organisations will recognise the correlation between service standards and profit if they want to be successful. In the public sector, UK SBS exists to bring about greater efficiency for its customers, and that relies on good service too. If poor service means it takes twice as long to do something, requiring even more support, that’s just not efficient, and we’ve failed. Our contracts do have a timeframe, our clients do have a choice, and people have long memories when it comes to service.”
The value of good service was ingrained in Jonathan from an early age “My father was a retailer and I grew up immersed in the family shop. Good service was more than an ethic, it was our livelihood, and though it was hard work, it was satisfying. What strikes me still from back then is that regular customers would keep coming back for years, because they expected good service and were never let down. The lesson here is that customer experience must be enhanced and consistent over time to maintain a healthy business, but also remember there’s a personally fulfilling aspect to doing something well too.”
Jonathan sums up his first meeting with the group, “It’s been a very positive experience so far. I’m really looking forward to continuing to work closely with the Institute of Customer Service Vice President group, and supporting and driving the agenda of making UK businesses the home of excellent service.”