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By Jo Causon, CEO, The Institute of Customer Service

If only it were so easy to draw the pandemic to a close. Moves couple of weeks ago by Nicola Sturgeon to bring forward the end of rules that have required the doubly vaccinated to self-isolate will have brought a sign of relief to Scottish employers. Those who operate south of the border still have to wait until the 16th before the effects of the “pingdemic” on their operations begin to ease.

The impact of temporary staff shortages on our service economy in recent months has been severe, exacerbated by a need to minimise overheads while margins remain under pressure from changed spending and working habits. And yet, we cannot lay all the blame for service outages and shuttered offices at the door of the NHS app.

As employers, we all bear a responsibility for the value we place on the resilience of our customer service. Putting the sensitivity of the NHS app and staffing shortages to one side, we’ve always had to cope with the risk of staff illness, and it is our job as leaders to ensure these internal challenges are not passed on to the customer. Time and again throughout the last year we have seen customers met with excuses why their needs have not been met “due to the challenges of the pandemic” – and regardless of the legitimacy of these claims, the results of our latest UKCSI show patience is wearing thin.

Customers who feel they have been let down through the pandemic won’t swiftly forget once business conditions “return to normal”. There is no normal, there never has been – best practice is always evolving. The past 18 months have seen many brands embrace the opportunity to pioneer new digital customer service channels, offering their delighted clients ever more convenience through apps, click and collect services, contactless payments and digital communications. There is no going back, and there is no excuse for failing to deliver.

The UK was counting the cost of poor customer service long before the pandemic, a failure to deliver customer satisfaction was costing our economy £10 billion a month. As we emerge from the ‘pingdemic’, those responsible for customer service should remind themselves of the fundamentals of delivering customer experiences that are right first time, whatever the challenges they are facing. They can’t do this, unless all customer communications and clear, transparent and honest.

Traditionally the ping of a reception bell could be expected to swiftly summon a helpful and rapid response. Today, that ping is as likely to signify the arrival of an automated chatbot or interactive display, but regardless both serve the same purpose. Welcoming custom and building trust.

The crisis is far from over, and it is clear we have a long way to go on the road to recovery. But we will come through this; and when we do, I know that those organisations that have protected and supported their people, maintained their commitment to excellent service and remained resilient throughout will remain at the forefront of excellence within our Service Nation.

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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