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By Jo Causon, CEO, The Institute of Customer Service

Given the external agenda of the past week, from fuel and skills shortages to rising energy prices, it is all too easy to overlook many of the positive outcomes that the customer service profession is achieving every day. So, I hope you have each taken time this National Customer Service Week to stop and reflect on the hard work and commitment delivered daily by yourselves and your teams to keep this Service Nation going.

Over the last eighteen months, our industry has seen tremendous change, from Covid-enforced new working practices and the impact on our organisational cultures, both good and bad, to the acceleration of hybrid working and the use of artificial intelligence in supporting customer interactions.

The past months have also transformed customer expectations of ourselves and our teams. As attitudes, behaviours and preferences continue to evolve, it’s more important than ever for brands to adopt a true omnichannel strategy; blending the best elements of digital and human experiences to engage with a diverse and fragmented customer base.

Our industry’s collective commitment to the underlying importance of effective and professional service provision has remained constant throughout the pandemic. From keeping the lights on to ensuring stock is on the shelves, our actions and effort have maintained living standards and kept the social fabric of our nation strong over the last 18 months.

Last week was all about celebrating that achievement, but it is also about honest reflection on the fact that, while the UK’s social fabric remains strong, it has undoubtedly frayed around the edges, and we have a duty to repair this damage. From isolated instances of unacceptable abuse of frontline workers, to the struggle to retain and recruit the right talent, it is undeniable that Britain’s reputation as a Service Nation is not as strong as it was pre-pandemic.

We can see the damage that the pandemic has wrought in our data; our latest UKCSI shows that complaints have risen to their highest level in a decade. We can also see the impact Covid has had upon our teams. Many of our colleagues are struggling to balance the return to “normal working practices” following changed personal responsibilities and habits from the past 18 months. The first steps to rebuilding confidence and capability across our sector are acknowledging these challenges, and a clear plan to tackle them.

National Customer Service Week 2021 marks a critical juncture for the UK economy and an opportunity for us all to take a breath and plan for the year ahead. As we emerge from the pandemic, it is essential that we all pay close attention to our full-service offerings and continue to champion the role customer satisfaction plays in achieving strong business results.

For the UK economy to move into recovery as a true service leader, we have to maintain a focus on all dimensions of the customer experience. We will do so by staying true to our beliefs – providing honest, genuine communication at all stages, and via all channels.

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