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By Jo Causon, CEO, The Institute of Customer Service

At the start of the year, The Institute published new research which explored changing customer priorities. It highlighted the elements of the ultimate customer experience which matter most to consumers, whether they are benefiting from a public service or buying a product.

Top of the list are ‘people factors’, how helpful, communicative and capable customer-facing staff can be. In short, the research suggested that today’s discerning customer is more concerned with employee competence than they are with many other things. And herein lies the problem.

A new report from the UK Commission for Employment & Skills suggests that employers are struggling to fill vacancies because they can’t find people with sufficient ‘customer handling skills’. According to the report, 39 percent of applicants to jobs during the past year lacked sales and customer skills, and that is why employers need support. They need it from Government, who should place customer service skills at the heart of cross-sector apprenticeships. They need it from the leadership at the helm of organisations, whose role should be to ensure service skill development is central to their organisational training programmes.

The fact is that with more than 70% of the UK’s workforce operating in customer-facing roles, customer service competences are a vital set of transferable skills all individuals need to master. It is not just the employee for whom this matters, though. Employers need to consider the customer service skills across their organisations – at all levels – if they are to secure their long term performance, in order to drive productivity, boost jobs and achieve the positioning and growth the UK is looking for. There is a real sense that we are at a crossroads and poised to enter a new era of challenge, uncertainty and complexity. Yet to succeed, we need people with the skills to deliver.

Organisations require staff who will ensure customers get the ultimate experience. And employees want to work for organisations who will help them develop the skills that will make their jobs easier to do. There is a palpable demand for service skills. As we move into another period of intense change it is the organisation and employee who harnesses this demand and hones their skills that will succeed. Yet they will only do so if the skills they learn are sustained, meeting and delivering on the standards today’s customer has a right to expect.

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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