Like many of you, I was fascinated and shocked by the Post Office drama that aired on ITV recently and have been following the real-world fallout throughout this week.
In years to come, I suspect this story will become an MBA case study. In the face of any major crisis, we as leaders in business have a duty not only to observe and react in real-time, but to apply the learnings that emerge once the dust has settled. This is particularly crucial at a time when customer satisfaction is declining in every sector, as shown by the UK Customer Satisfaction Index (UKCSI).
The scandal at the Post Office should act as a reminder for business leaders to focus on their approach to service as a reputational asset, and to put people at the heart of everything they do.
A harsh lesson in overreliance on technology
It is clear some organisations have become overly dependent on new technologies as the fix to all their challenges – from improving productivity to reducing operational costs.
Whilst technology can, in many cases, be an asset for the service offering, it isn’t a silver bullet.
The Horizon IT platform and how it was deployed is a stark example of this overreliance, demonstrating the damage that can be caused by a belief in the inflatability of technology within what should have been a people and service-oriented business.
The fact that early faults within the Horizon software and supporting hardware weren’t acknowledged, highlighted and fixed suggests a lack of ‘checks and balances’. This, combined with insufficient staff training and a lack of adequate helpline support, prevented these faults from being resolved.
Above all, though, the unwavering faith in and reliance on this new technology may have inhibited those in charge from recognising that it may have had flaws!
Human empathy remains essential
We must empower our people – at all levels of the business – to not only understand when there are issues with processes and technology, but to feel able to raise their concerns and speak up when these issues arise.
The case for service leadership
But beyond the obvious flaws in technology and process, for me, this case is a reminder that exercising strong judgement and leading from the top is paramount. As business leaders, we have a duty to remain accountable, hold our hands up when our organisations get things wrong, and work to make them right.
Leadership has always been pivotal to an organisation’s success. This is especially true when it comes to building trust and reputation which, as our research shows, are two vital drivers of long-term value to service-driven businesses.
To succeed in building a Service Nation, we should foster robust and engaged cultures among our staff, based on trust and role modelling, and never blind obedience. We need to ask the right questions and have no preconceptions as to what the ‘right’ answers to these questions are. In achieving this, our organisational culture becomes stronger, and we will be equipped to deal with the big challenges thrown at us when times get tough.