5th Jan 2017
Members of Parliament understand the value of first-rate customer service more than you might think. Once an MP is elected, explains Chris Evans, Labour MP for Islwyn, it’s their duty to provide the highest standard of customer service possible. “In five years’ time, you’ll find you get kicked out pretty quickly if you don’t provide that service,” he says.
But it’s the outcome of last year’s UK referendum on European Union (EU) membership, rather than a General Election, that’s concentrating the minds of business leaders at the start of the year. And one of the questions they should be asking is: what does Brexit mean for customer service?
At present, the uncertainty caused by Brexit poses problems for companies, says Evans, who is co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Customer Service. “We’re in uncharted waters at the moment and business is really concerned about that,” he says.
However, these concerns aren’t shared by Evans’s fellow co-chair of the APPG on Customer Service, Philip Davies, who is MP for Shipley. Davies, who in 2005 became the first Conservative MP to openly state that Britain should leave the EU, says: “I don’t think [organisations] have got many big problems to worry about, to be honest. I think things will be pretty much unchanged.”
Regardless of Brexit’s impact, Davies – who worked at Asda in Leeds as a customer services project manager before becoming an MP – thinks organisations should be doing much more to improve customer service. And achieving this can be surprisingly simple, he adds.
At Asda, for instance, he oversaw a refund policy called ‘No Excuses Guaranteed’. It meant that if anyone came back to the store for a refund, it didn’t matter what the item was, how old it was or whether they had a receipt – they got their money back.
In their efforts to improve customer service, UK companies would benefit from greater support from government, believes Evans, who reckons that British businesses have been more “visionary” than the Government over Brexit. He says: “I think there’s an acceptance that there are no borders in business but there are borders in politics.”
Evans suggests that one way the Government could encourage businesses to strive for higher levels of service is to promote industry standard qualifications, such as those delivered by The Institute of Customer Service.
Evans also emphasises that, in a post-Brexit, globalised future, it will be increasingly important for the Government to promote the services that set the UK apart overseas. He says the reason the nation scores highly in customer service – the UK came top in The Institute’s European Customer Satisfaction Index last year – is because its people have excellent interpersonal and communication skills. “These are all soft skills and we don’t talk about them,” says Evans. “We have to talk them up a bit more.”
Davies agrees that the Government should do more promotion abroad – and that service is one area where the UK has a competitive advantage. “I know businesses that have won contracts back from China largely because of customer service,” he says.
According to Davies, it will become easier for UK organisations to provide for their customers after the break from the EU because they will be freed from what he describes as “nonsensical” European directives. “I hope that providing customer service will become easier,” he says, “but whichever side of the fence you’re on, it will certainly become more important.”