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At this time of year, I’m reminded of a Christmas classic, The Polar Express – the story of a magical and, at times, turbulent journey to the North Pole, where our hero comes to appreciate the wonder of Christmas and the importance of belief.

As 2023 draws to a close, we should once again reflect on what has been a challenging year for many businesses and, regrettably, a year of declining customer satisfaction. Yet, as with the hazardous moments aboard the Polar Express, this year has been met with resilience by many businesses who remain focused on their purpose and clear about their unique customer offering and the value this brings.

Enduring economic headwinds and growing geopolitical and societal pressures no doubt derailed hopes of a quick return to stable business following the Covid chill; something that will continue to impact us all, to varying degrees, as we move into the new year.

Having fallen to its lowest since 2015, customer satisfaction will likely remain under pressure in 2024, making it essential for businesses to focus on their service proposition – something inherently challenging given customers’ ever-shifting attitudes and personal circumstances. Understanding their needs takes agility (as we outline in our 2024 Trends Report). They are a fragmented group, with diverse and hard-to-predict expectations.

Similarly, businesses are coming under scrutiny from more angles than ever before, leading to a regulatory landscape that is both increasingly important and increasingly focused on serving customers well.

The rapid implementation of new technologies isn’t an express train to the promised land. Inflated expectations of its capability or customers’ willingness to adopt have left some organisations ill-equipped to provide a good service experience.

However, just as the Conductor on board the Polar Express was able to redirect the train off the ice and onto the track, I believe we can get business back on track by focusing on service.

Boards and Executives must genuinely understand the business case for customer service, as it becomes an ever more critical brand differentiator, core reputational facet, and driver of profit. In doing so, organisations will be able to invest more, hone the skills and capabilities required to deliver efficient service and cater to a growing focus on equality and inclusion.

Crucially, businesses need to combine technology, data, and people, ensuring newly implemented processes are user-friendly, stress-tested, and rooted in customer outcomes. Above all, though, we must put our faith in our people – through investment, culture development, and empowerment – to deliver personalised and emotionally satisfying experiences.

As we approach the Christmas break, I hope, like the boy who alights from the Polar Express with renewed belief in Father Christmas, that we as a Service Nation appreciate the foundational role the service experience plays in inspiring employees and enhancing organisational performance.

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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