Mary Gober’s Clinic – Another Downturn, A Different Solution
I am writing this article at the beginning of 2009 and over the past few weeks I have increasingly been asked for my views on the current economic situation and the impact on customer service. My comments are based on my personal experience working with organisations in the UK today and on the research that I have undertaken.
I have a firmly held view that all organisations, regardless of the economic situation, must have a clear customer service strategy in place supported by the optimal policies, processes and people skills to deliver it.
If we look back over the years, in any slowdown, such as 2002-3 much was being written about the importance of ensuring a high level of customer service to retain customers and so survive. I feel however, that there is a sea change in this recession compared to previous economic slowdowns. There appears now to be a real a focus to back up good intentions with a strategy and commitment to continue to develop people through training to deliver consistently excellent service. There is an understanding that through building the service competence of service-givers, customer service metrics improve and so therefore do bottom line results.
We will all be familiar that in a downturn it is often said the “first budgets to be cut are marketing, recruitment and training”. This has been my experience in the past. It is absolutely critical for organisations now to ensure the highest possible levels of customer service with the right policies and processes in place, delivered by highly trained and motivated people. That means making decisions to ensure that this happens in your organisation. You are not able to leave the delivery of outstanding service to chance.
I am very encouraged because there is evidence to suggest that in this recession, business leaders are seeing the importance of investment in their people. Of course this has to be set in the context of responsible management and risk taking. In November 2008, 5 leading figures in British business (Sir Michael Rake, Mervyn Davies, Brendan Barber, Richard Lambert and Sir Stuart Rose) placed an Open Letter to UK Employers in Newspapers acting for the UK Commission for Employment and Skills. In this letter they pledged their absolute commitment to investing in training. They said, “The skills of our people are our best guarantee of future prosperity – and the best investment a business can make in challenging times. We must not pay the price of failing to invest in the talent on which our future will be built”.
The recently published results from the Institute of Customer Service also give us reason for optimism about service provision within the UK. The UK Customer Satisfaction Index again rose compared with the previous results. In this report the overall UKCSI stood at 72% up 1% since July 2008. Roger Crawford ICS Executive Director lays down a challenge to UK organisations – to reach a UKCSI of 80% to be classed as world-class in service delivery. An essential building block, in my view for economic recovery.
My encouragement to customer service professionals is to be bold and courageous leading your teams through this recession. If you truly believe in your product and know there is a market for it, then your obligation is to make sure you have people with the highest levels of service competency, working within customer-focused policies and processes. Ensure your people are equipped for the times ahead to deliver even higher levels of service. By investing in them you will increase their engagement with your organisation and build a firm foundation for better years ahead.