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By Jo Causon, CEO, The Institute of Customer Service

Shortly before the lockdown, in response to troubling figures from our customer service index (the UKCSI), I called for a reminder and review of what excellent service looked like. We should be careful what we wish for; I would never have envisaged how over two months the coronavirus lockdown would so fundamentally change how our country and organisations operate. Across colleagues and customers, we’ve seen expectations of what excellent service looks like reset, and these expectations have less to do with queuing times or dispute resolution, they have been about the demonstration of trust, empathy and support and knowledge – a display of deeper connection and understanding and of course ‘doing the right thing’.

As the government this week sets out the new working models that will lead us out of lockdown, it is time for this experience in acting responsibly to be captured and committed to introducing new working models. In the face of figures out this week that show the steepest decline in the performance of the UK’s services sector since 1996, we must not kid ourselves that there will be a swift return to normality. But neither should we despair. A reset of working practices and competitive pressures means that we have a once in a generation opportunity to rebuild a working culture where excellent service is embedded across our operations.

Coronavirus has taught all of us that commercial imperatives cannot be all that drives our decision making. Evidence shows that where the board takes responsibility for customer experience, employee engagement increases and levels of customer satisfaction rise. Ultimately in the longer-term higher levels of performance emerge.

What better example than the responsibility shown this week by bakery chain Greggs – in the face of heightened customer demand, they postponed a national reopening in favour of controlled response to avoid putting their customers and employees in harm’s way. Excellent customer service boosts the trust not only of customers, but also of colleagues. We have a window where public goodwill and understanding of our nation’s temporarily compromised services, can with empathy, willingness and generosity be turned into a solid foundation for a less transactional and more trusted relationship with society.

As boards begin to implement the government’s guidance for a safe and staged return to the workplace, they mustn’t recreate a system that had seen a steady decline in customer service. Listening to our customer service teams, and our customers let us take the opportunity to embrace best practice and forge a Service Nation that is the envy of the world.

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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