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Over the last two weeks, students across the country have been receiving their exam results, with some even brave enough to do so live on TV. It’s an annual tradition that seems to capture the national fascination – many of us were no doubt reminded of our own results days, and some perhaps reliving the anxiety with their own children, friends or family members.

For businesses, given the very challenging landscape, perhaps if we spent more time thinking about our genuine resourcing needs, we wouldn’t have some of these current issues we are facing into. I have spoken many times about the need to plan further out and the need for better workforce planning and this feels even more important given the current challenges we are still facing! Over 60% of our workforce work in customer-related roles, either serving customers directly or serving someone who does. Yet we are still struggling to really highlight the importance of the customer service professional.

While customer service is critical to the UK’s employment and economic performance – some roles are sometimes viewed as a stopgap or steppingstone to other roles, particularly amongst students taking summer jobs.

Our research shows that just one in five young people (aged 16-21) see it as a well-respected career path, whilst less than a third see customer service as having good career prospects. Both figures for this demographic are starkly below the UK average, highlighting a sizeable generational gap when considering a career in customer service.

Left unaddressed, we will see a skills gap appear for talented senior customer experience professionals. Given the importance of the service experience to reputation and operational effectiveness, this is something all business leaders should be addressing now! In fact, the service agenda or as we refer to it, the ‘Service Nation’ and skilling appropriately for the future provides the UK as a genuine opportunity to lead ourselves out of our financial and social challenges.

The evolution of the customer service profession
The service profession has evolved rapidly over the past two decades. Any preconceptions of careers spent in contact centres or working on low-level tasks should be checked at the door. We work in a world where we need highly skilled individuals who work at pace, have brilliant tech and human skills, build empathy, resolve knotty problems, genuinely care and help others reduce their issues – this is the contact centre of today.

I don’t think this is by accident: it is starting to be more commonplace to see more of our Senior business leaders with backgrounds in service and operations forging a path to the boardroom. Louise Beardmore, CEO of United Utilities, Simon Roberts, CEO of Sainsbury’s and Oke Eleazu, CEO of ManyPets, all touched on their experiences of treading this path at our Annual Conference earlier this year.

When you consider the skills needed to succeed at the highest level of business, it’s little wonder a grounding in customer experience helps people succeed. Any Board needs executives equipped to deal with complex issues, communicate on a human and personal level, show resilience, bring the ‘outside-in’, understand customer needs and apply data and digital tools confidently.

What can businesses do to promote long-term customer service careers?
Against a backdrop of skills shortages, recruitment challenges and rising costs, businesses who can create opportunities to retain, or even reattract, highly talented professionals into service roles are more likely to succeed commercially.

To do this, organisations first need to create a culture where long-term service roles are valued. This means developing and nurturing top talent with professional development opportunities and recognition.

Organisations should also ensure that core customer service skills are embedded in their recruitment, training and development, providing a broader set of skills and capabilities for individuals.

Finally, firms should look to highlight the career opportunities available to those who start in service roles. This requires organisations to think laterally, and opening up roles that might traditionally have been harder for service professionals to progress into.

Combined, this will help organisations to future-proof themselves and keep exceptionally talented individuals. More than that though, they will contribute towards the wider economic growth of the country as we continue to build the Service Nation.

As we prepare for new college terms, going back to school and a new business quarter for many organisations, I urge us all to really apply ourselves to ensuring we plan better for our service world and ensure we are creating the right customer service roles to help us build for a brighter future.

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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