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By Jo Causon, CEO, The Institute of Customer Service

It’s no secret that the nation is facing a severe skills shortage. Even before the pandemic hit, many industries were experiencing challenges from a lack of skilled professionals – and this has only been accelerated over the past 18 months.

I take my hat off to those businesses taking steps to adapt their recruitment process to meet today’s realities. They’re speeding up the hiring process, revisiting and clarifying their skills needs, and filling open positions where they can. But the most crucial step is the next one. After a hire is made, it’s time to make a firm investment in employee careers, providing growth and learning opportunities and a productive working environment to retain talent.

Employee retention is fast becoming a key competitive differentiator. An organisation’s ability to hold on to its talent — especially in tight hiring markets like customer service — has profound ramifications for its ability to operate at a high level, without the disruption that employee turnover brings.

To put it simply, an employer who doesn’t focus on learning is going to lose out — in performance, engagement and retention. Development is no longer an optional perk, reserved only for certain positions – but a core employee expectation. It signals that an employer values their people and is actively interested in their success — not just in their current role, but over their entire career.

Investing in staff does exactly what it says on the tin – whilst there is an initial outgoing, the benefits are unmatched and will directly impact relationships with staff long-term. Budget to support professional development should be included in business plans and allocated throughout the year, no matter what the circumstances.

Furthermore, with a supply/demand imbalance between certain jobs and suitable employees, many skilled workers are placing greater focus on organisational culture when choosing where to take their next career step. Adopting a “people-first” attitude – and placing focus on developing a strong emotional connection with employees – is not only key to retention, but also to recruitment.

Very few of us have emerged from the past 18 months unscathed. The pressure put on individuals, not just professionally but also in our personal lives, has been enormous. Whilst some have battled with increased workloads, others have had the fear of losing their jobs. As we move forward, it’s important to recognise the battles employees have faced, and inspire them with opportunities to better themselves and grow.

Much like a customer, if an employee feels an emotional connection with an organisation and feels respected and wanted, they are far less likely to leave, and are often more willing to go beyond the norm. Building a culture of happiness and trust is pivotal in sustaining a positive work environment – and directly affects the service an organisation provides.

As we look to the end of the year, I urge businesses to examine their relationship with their workforce – looking at opportunities to build an emotional connection and create a culture of mutual trust and respect. Doing so will create a more positive working environment, deliver better service to the customer and underpin future commercial success.

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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