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By Jo Causon, CEO, The Institute of Customer Service

It has been an extraordinary and challenging year for everyone, and I do not imagine that 2021 is going to get off to an easier start; but as 2020 draws to a close there is so much to be learned from what we’ve experienced. As leaders, managers, and individuals one thing is for sure – we need to reflect on the learnings and use them to full effect in 2021.

So, here are my thoughts on ten things we might have learnt from this year and my tips for what they could mean for the new year to come.

1 We’re far more resilient than we thought we were. Despite the unprecedented effects of the pandemic, in the main, businesses have held it together and kept serving their customers. If we can come through this, we can come through anything. 2021 is sure also to pose challenges, but the resilience we’ve learned should stand us in good stead.

2 What we thought was taboo is actually not. Through the pandemic, businesses have had to adapt and operate in very different ways. They moved at pace and adjusted to entire workforces working from home. The thought of empty offices was inconceivable a year ago. But this year it happened – and businesses kept functioning. Even with a vaccine, we are likely to see much higher levels of remote working than before for some time to come and perhaps, to some extent, permanently.

3 Presenteeism is not a measure of productivity. Linked to the above, remote working has taught us that things can still get done and in fact a spirit of innovation and creativity can flourish. Yes, it’s been hard at times, but overall productivity has held up and perhaps we are measuring this better – in terms of impact and outcome rather than just activity. We need to keep this up.

4 Openness, honesty and transparency are key. Exceptional times can put a strain on any business. There’s no point in pretending otherwise. Businesses have learned the importance of being open and honest with their customers and their staff. Transparent, calm communication is key. This will continue to be the case in 2021 when many challenges – including Brexit – will come to the fore.

5 Leaders have got closer to their teams. Despite the physical separation brought about by Covid-19, leaders and managers have in many cases got to know their teams better. Conversations have been more open. Understanding has improved about what really matters to individuals. This will be a vital building block for employee engagement in 2021. Demonstrating that we are ‘human’ and at times vulnerable is important and I hope this continues.

6 We need to focus on core competencies. In the past, some organisations have perhaps tried to do too many things. Actually, there is no point in trying to ‘specialise at everything’. The pandemic has shown businesses the importance of focusing on their core purpose – what they are really there for. This focus will continue.

7 We have to continually improve. The unknowns of the pandemic meant that organisations responded in different ways and then had to adapt what they did as circumstances changed. It was an object lesson in not standing still – being prepared to take stock and always looking for ways to do things better. This for me is really important – being constantly curious, restless and striving for better is something we will need to carry forward into 2021.

8 Change is a constant. I’ve talked already about remote working, empty offices and how things won’t go back to how they were. It’s all part of learning that change is a continual factor in our lives. Change holds exciting possibilities – we can expect to see the increasing roll-out of new services and channels through artificial intelligence (AI) and other emerging technologies that will make customer experiences more immersive, engaging and ‘real’.

9 Caring is important, service is critical. No one will forget clapping for the NHS, carers and essential workers. The value and importance of caring and looking after each other has been raised. At the same time, the value of service has also been powerfully highlighted. Many organisations have boosted customer loyalty through the way they have maintained service in exceptional times; others have lost customers by not doing so. Service will continue to be a key differentiator and must be an absolute strategic priority.

10 Keeping safe and well is paramount. Businesses can’t operate without their people. That is why looking after them is vital, both in terms of physical health & safety and mental wellbeing. Organisations simply must invest in looking after their staff at all levels.

Finally, there is much to digest at the end of a year like no other. Life remains uncertain and challenging, but at the same time there is great hope and innovation around us. I took my 92-year-old mum for her first vaccine injection on Saturday and it made me proud to think about all we have achieved and can achieve going forward.

I do hope, even though Christmas won’t be the usual Christmas we’ve come to expect, that everyone manages to find the time to stand back and reflect on the personal learnings from what we have all achieved and what they mean for the challenges and opportunities to come. There is no doubt that those organisations who really do learn from the lessons of this year will be in a stronger position to forge ahead in 2021.


Wishing everyone a healthy and happy Christmas and New Year.

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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