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It has been another challenging year for organisations, full of unpredictability, volatility and rising cost pressures. As we come to the end of 2022, worker discontent is everywhere we look, with more strike actions underway or pending than we have seen since the 1970s.

Next year doesn’t look like it will be much easier, with inflation still riding high and the UK predicted to stay in recession. The cost of living crisis could really start to bite next year, especially as winter energy bills land.

But it’s easy to get caught up in a spiral of negativity that only makes things worse. It’s in difficult times that leaders really earn their keep. We need to lift our heads, keep a long-term view and map out the path to growth.

Nine key trends in 2023

When we look ahead to 2023 from a service perspective, there are clearly many challenges – but there are opportunities too. We have explored these in our Customer service trends and predictions 2023 report, where we identify nine key themes that I expect will dominate.

I won’t go into detail on each theme here, but suffice to say the agenda will be very full. Some of the themes are perennial issues which I have discussed before in this blog, including the increasing polarisation of customer needs and attitudes, political instability and uncertainty, and the need to make a robust case for continuing investment in the service agenda as organisations navigate difficult economic conditions.

Another familiar topic is getting the blend of technology and human support right. In 2023, I expect the ability to deliver a successful blend to be a crucial differentiator. Yes, many customers like and welcome more digital capabilities that enable them to self-serve and quickly find what they need. But at the same time, some organisations tend to overestimate the capacity of digital technologies to deal effectively with the variety of customer experiences and personal situations. There have been signs that customers have fallen somewhat out of love with technology in the service context.

But this opens up one of the opportunities – to refocus and really get the strategy right, ensuring that human support is available alongside the technology. When many people are likely to need support and engagement more than ever, 2023 could be a year for service to shine.

Conscious commitment to service standards

However, I am under no illusions: there will be severe pressure on many customer service teams. It will require conscious commitment and dedication to keep service levels high. That is why we identify a growing focus on how to ensure acceptable minimum levels of service as another key topic next year. This will especially apply to essential sectors and to the provision of service to vulnerable customers. We can expect increased pressure for organisations to commit to minimum levels and for regulators to enforce them.

To fulfil these expectations and obligations, it will be critical that organisations are sufficiently staffed and resourced. This year has seen the continuation of acute skills shortages, with both recruitment and retention becoming harder. That is why there needs to be a resetting and refocusing on workforce planning in 2023. Organisations will need to take more innovative and proactive approaches to recruitment, induction and retention. To bolster retention, they will need to look at employee experience in the round from the perspective of a diverse range of employees. Salary and reward are crucial here, but that’s by no means the only consideration. It’s about training and career development, health and well-being, engagement and purpose. Only the organisations that get this right will be in a position to really excel in the service agenda in 2023.

Another essential for success where we predict an increased focus next year is for the voice of the customer to become more prominent in corporate governance. Governance issues have shot up the agenda in recent times, particularly around climate and ESG. Organisational culture has become more important to shareholders and investors in this regard, because it’s a telling indicator of an organisation’s ability to respond. But a key piece in all of this is also ensuring that the business is in tune with the concerns, needs and interests of customers. Increasing numbers of customers are concerned about environmental and sustainability issues, as well as businesses’ social and community footprints. Boards and directors will be questioned about how they are listening to their customers within their governance agendas and supporting a customer ethos across the organisation.

Recognising the customer service profession

These priorities may not be easy to solve – but we need to believe in ourselves as a profession and remember how far we have already come through difficult times. I believe there will be a growing recognition of the profession of customer service in 2023. What often used to be seen as an ‘entry level’ job or something ‘anyone can do’ has expanded enormously in recent times to cover so many aspects of the customer experience across multiple channels and touchpoints. It encompasses a whole range of specialist and technical skills, soft skills, and business capabilities. Our research suggests that almost two thirds of employees spend a significant amount of their time dealing with their organisation’s customers. This means that customer service skills and professionalism are essential to productivity and business performance as well as customer satisfaction.

I expect there to be an increased focus in 2023 on developing professional standards and a career pathway for customer service professionals, and growing recognition from political and business stakeholders that the service profession is core to the health of the economy.

Certainly, that’s what we stand by at The Institute as we continue to promote the profession and standards of service excellence. 2023 will have its challenges – but I have no doubt that it can also be a key year in resetting and propelling service forward.

I wish everyone a Happy Christmas and a successful and prosperous 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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