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Another week, another raft of concerning headlines and political upheaval. Amongst the myriad of gloomy news reports, I was concerned to see the latest ONS Labour Market figures. They showed key sectors such as social work, food and financial services continuing to struggle in accessing the talent they require to unlock economic growth. This is not just a question of recruitment, but also of retention. If we are to hold off (or at least reduce the severity of) a looming recession, organisations must invest in supporting and protecting their people.

As purse strings tighten, the attention of many business leaders has, quite rightly, turned to how to retain and attract customers against a challenging economic backdrop. Yet this is only part of the story. Our service employees are the public face of our organisations – interacting with customers day in, day out. Building a happy and supported workforce is crucial not only to sustaining a positive work environment – but directly affects the service an organisation provides, and the chance of repeat custom.

In recent weeks, I’ve seen reports of organisations taking active steps to support their staff through the cost of living crisis – from providing additional monthly payments to help with energy bills to offering discounted lunch vouchers. Whilst this is encouraging to see, I believe the need runs deeper. Our service employees are dealing with the very same stresses and concerns as our customers – from spiralling mortgage rates to climbing energy prices and the ever-present threat of international conflict. Now, more than ever, managers need to take the time to check in with their people; understanding their individual personal situations, maintaining a high antenna for observing changes in behaviour and having the emotional empathy to understand when to step in, and how to support.

Further still, the challenges facing customers is causing a worrying spike in unacceptable abuse towards customer facing staff. The latest polling from our ongoing Service with Respect campaign shows two in five (40%) of frontline staff have – or have thought about – leaving their roles as a result of customer hostility. This is a loss of essential service personnel our nation simply cannot afford. Organisations must continue to demonstrate the practical steps they are taking to safeguard their frontline staff, adopting a zero tolerance approach to abuse and ensuring adequate reporting mechanisms are in place for affected team members.

The road ahead will not be easy – but organisations simply cannot survive the storm without the commitment and support of their people. Now is the time for leaders to truly lead, acting as a voice of calm and reassurance through difficult times. Only through investing in our people will we maintain the loyalty and trust of our customers on which our service nation depends.

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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