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By Jo Causon, CEO, The Institute of Customer Service

The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Customer Service administered by the Institute of Customer Service: The All Party Parliamentary Group on Customer Service was founded in July 2014 with an aim to raise awareness and understanding of customer service amongst parliamentarians and establish a dialogue with UK organisations across all sectors.

Members are invited to quarterly meetings to debate the impact of customer service on economic growth and business performance in different sectors. The main meeting topics will cover driving improvements in the quality of public services for citizens, building on positive business performance of organisations and developing employability for individuals through customer service skills training.

Why is an All-Party Parliamentary Group on Customer Service important?

Customer Service is extremely important to the UK economy; over 70% of the working population perform roles that involve dealing directly with customers. The service sector generates around 78% of UK GDP and services are an increasingly important source of revenues for manufacturers. Quality and competence in customer service therefore has a significant impact on the UK’s competitiveness and quality of public services.

In addition there are growing concerns for all sectors, with rising customer expectations. The general public are better informed, often have greater choice, are less tolerant of organisations that fail to meet their expectations and can use a variety of communication channels to express their opinions.

Fortunately, there is growing recognition of the links between customer service and organisations’ sustainable business performance.

An All-Party Parliamentary Group meeting to focusing on the challenges facing Utilities

After the initial meeting in July, the second meeting of the All-Party Group on Customer Service took place on Monday 13th October, at the Houses of Parliament, focusing on the challenges and opportunities facing the Utilities sector in terms of their customer service strategy.

Emma FitzGerald, Director of Gas Distribution, National Grid and Steve Hayfield, Director of Customer Service, B2C, EDF presented their organisations’ vision and priorities for customer service strategy. Both speakers acknowledged that the utilities sector as a whole faces a challenge to achieve improvements in customer satisfaction and highlighted strategies to achieve this.

Presentations were followed by a discussion with MPs and other attendees including: CEOs and customer service directors from Northern Powergrid, GDF Suez, Anglian Water, Northern Gas Networks Limited, Wales & West Utilities Limited, Carillion, UK Power Networks, Southern Water, IMServ, Morrison Utility Services, Yorkshire Water, Thames Water, Skandia, E.ON Smart Energy and Ofwat.

Some of the key discussion points during the meeting were: Trust, transparency and greater simplicity were highlighted as key factors that are required to deliver sustained improvements in customer satisfaction. In research from the Institute, trust and reputation have also been found to be fundamental to customer satisfaction. This leads to a key challenge for organisations to demonstrate that they are acting fairly and in the interests of customers at all times.

Both keynote speakers highlighted the potential of technologies such as smart metering for providing simpler, more innovative flexible services. However, the successful deployment of smart metering will largely depend on how effectively the sector, as a whole, will address the current engineering skills shortage.

The successful deployment of smart metering will also highly depend on the sector’s ability to re-establish customer trust. Indeed, customers need trust organisations’ ability to install the meters and should be reassured that their data will be used appropriately.

Customers want to be able to deal in a seamless and straightforward way with Utilities companies whichever channel of communication they use. Organisations therefore need to focus on delivering consistent and straight forward experiences whether an organisation contacts them face to face, on the telephone or online. Training and empowering frontline employees is therefore central to delivering excellent customer service.

There is an opportunity for different types of utilities and infrastructure providers to collaborate more closely in scheduling major work projects to minimise disruption. Co-operation and collaboration between providers and key stakeholders within the sector will be key for success during the upcoming years in order to successfully implement transformative changes such as smart metering. Attendees will be taking the points into consideration for review in the next six months and the Institute will work with them to provide updates about progress and developments in order to drive progression and improvements across the sector.

The next meeting will take place on 20 January. Parliamentarians involved in the group are currently discussing which subject they would like to focus on as part of the meeting.

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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