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By Jo Causon, CEO, The Institute of Customer Service

There’s no doubt that 2019 has been a challenging year for many businesses, dominated by uncertainty over Brexit and a subdued economy. But what does 2020 hold? Will we turn a corner and experience a post-election bounce? What will be the keys to success? Here are my predictions of eight key trends for 2020 from a service perspective.

The global opportunity for services will come sharply into focus

Services are key to our economy “both at home and around the world. ONS figures show that exports of services were worth £162bn in 2017, up 14% from the previous year. As we hopefully get more clarity on Brexit next year, there will be a great opportunity for businesses to leverage our trading relationships not just with Europe but globally. We need to maximise the value of the UK brand and our reputation as a centre for service excellence. There will be opportunities for those businesses that can harness this and drive a service agenda.

Uncertainty about the economy will continue

Regardless of the election outcome, it will take time for the economy to shift up a gear. No one should be expecting an overnight transformation. That means it will be important for organisations to hold their nerve and stay focused on their long-term agendas. There is a risk that some will chase revenue growth and neglect standards of service across the customer experience. But it is the businesses that remember long-terms success is underpinned by staying true to the service agenda who will prosper most.

There will be a renewed focus on organisational culture

Given the first two points, it will be more important than ever to develop a genuinely service-orientated culture across the organisation that encompasses leadership, employees and the customer. High performing organisations don’t see customer service as a set of transactions or one department, but as a way of doing business that is fundamental to their purpose and values.

Recruitment will become more challenging and more important

I wrote a blog a couple of months ago about the challenges organisations are facing to recruit the right people. This will continue and probably intensify during 2020. Only just over half of current recruitment is successful. Better collaboration between HR and operational teams will be essential, along with a range of recruitment strategies across channels, and more effective onboarding to successfully bed new joiners in.

Sustainability will continue to rise up the agenda

It’s something that matters more and more to customers and stakeholders. No business can ignore it. Whether it’s the use of plastics and other materials, overall carbon footprint or ethical reputation, the sustainability agenda has become something organisations are increasingly judged on. At The Institute, we will be conducting some research on the impact of sustainability next year. Increasingly, organisations will be expected not just to ‘do the right thing’ but to be active participants in finding sustainable solutions.

Greater transparency over service performance will be required across regulated sectors

I believe we will see a continuation of the trend of regulators paying close attention to customer and service performance alongside financial performance data. There will be a greater emphasis on benchmarking customer satisfaction performance “creating an opportunity for those businesses who can take the lead and get on the front foot.

Transparency will be expected across supply chains

As an extension of consumers’ focus on sustainability and regulators’ focus on service, organisations will also be expected to show that they are embracing the right standards across their supply chains. Are their suppliers ethical and sustainable too? Businesses will need to be transparent about every aspect of their operations and take accountability for anything that happens in their name.

The changing nature of work will remain a key evolving issue

As the use of automation and AI only increases, getting the balance right between technology and human beings will continue to be a crucial challenge for every employer. But there are other issues that need to be brought into balance as well, such as ensuring that flexible working works for all parties including the organisation, customers and employees; that line managers are equipped to have honest conversations to address underperformance where needed; and that there is a heightened focus on employee resilience and mental wellbeing. It will be about navigating the right line that both gives support to employees and bolsters organisational performance.

Overall, just as 2019 has been challenging for most businesses, I expect 2020 will be a tough year too. Problems and uncertainties won’t simply melt away.

However, there will be real opportunities for the organisations that stay true to the service agenda. The ones that are bold and brave enough to resist a short-term approach are the most likely to be rewarded.

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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