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It is always a great pleasure to hold our Annual Conference, when we bring together Institute members, business partners and colleagues to take a deep dive into what’s really driving the customer service agenda and think about how we can collectively shape the future – and this year was no exception.

Despite the challenging circumstances that businesses are operating in, with a mixed economy, cost of living pressures still impacting many customers, and declining customer satisfaction rates as measured by our UK Customer Satisfaction Index, the mood in the room was highly positive, energised and determined.

There was a clear recognition that a reset is needed to put customer sentiment back on a more positive trajectory – but also that there is so much to build on as service professionals around the country create positive moments for customers every single day, when a problem is resolved, a burden is lifted, or a solution is found. They are the moments that matter and that add up to make the service profession such a rewarding and important career and more broadly drive higher levels of organisational performance.

Service Nation at the heart of our vision

That aspect – service as a profession – is one of the four pillars of the Service Nation concept that we are committed to driving at The Institute. As I outlined in my conference speech, the Service Nation doesn’t only matter to the customer service community – it has resonance for the whole economy, for the UK’s productivity and wellbeing across communities and social groups.

The first pillar of the Service Nation is service as a business asset. Our research clearly shows the business ROI of investing in service. Organisations with higher-than-average satisfaction in their sector have 10% higher profitability and 7% higher revenue. Our UKCSI shows that where customers score 9 or 10 (out of 10) for customer satisfaction, they are over 90% more likely to recommend, repurchase and remain a customer. The business value of service is crystal clear!

The second pillar, as I’ve touched on, is service as a respected profession. This matters at a boardroom level as well as ‘on the ground’ – and this is why we will be developing a suite of training for the boardroom on the business impact of customer experience and best practice in reporting customer service performance in annual reports. What’s more – and as I announced at the conference – we have also begun work on the exciting prospect of a Service University, which will bring together expertise, resources, and networks into a coherent programme of personal development for service professionals. It will help drive standards of professionalism and a greater recognition of the value and status of customer service at the most senior levels. Watch this space!

The third pillar is customer service as a catalyst for a fairer society. This is about taking decisions that balance the needs of customers, shareholders, and other stakeholders. A key aspect is ensuring support and service for vulnerable customers who rely on being able to access essential services such as banks, utilities, telecommunications, and transport. It also means treating our customer-facing staff with care and doing the right thing by them – as we have been championing in our Service with Respect campaign. My team and I at The Institute are very grateful for the support that has been shown by our members in this campaign.

The last pillar in the Service Nation is service as a driver for sustainable growth. This feels more relevant than ever at a time when our economy – and others around the world – are battling negative headwinds. At an immediate level, if all organisations embrace the first pillar and drive service as a business asset, the combined uplift in performance and profitability will have a significant impact on the economy. But we also need service to be front of mind at a macro level, and this means it should be central to policymaking on skills, training and apprenticeships. This is why we continue to work with the All Party Parliamentary Group on Customer Service, and government departments, to continue to raise awareness of the role that service plays in our economy.

Inspired by leadership authenticity and determination

It was a great privilege to hear from all of our inspiring speakers at the conference. This included Dame Irene Hays, Owner and Chair of Hays Travel, who spoke about the importance for organisations to re-establish trust with customers after the turbulent days of the pandemic followed by the recent economic downturn; Tom Athron, CEO of Fortnum & Mason who discussed remaining relevant and meeting customer expectations as a luxury brand in challenging times; and Professor Martin Rees, Astronomer Royal, who gave us a fascinating forward-looking perspective on key future challenges and how we may respond, from AI to climate change and an increasingly over-populated planet.

Across all of our speakers, what really struck me was the authenticity with which leaders are facing into the challenges, the clarity of their sense of purpose, and the determination they are bringing.

That’s why despite all the difficulties that beset our complex modern world, I came away feeling renewed and inspired. The Service Nation is not a dream – working together and putting the customer at the heart, we can make it a reality and build a thriving future for us all.

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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