By Jo Causon, CEO, The Institute of Customer Service:
Businesses are still dealing daily with the complex and difficult challenges presented by the Covid-19 pandemic and it is clear this will be the case for sometime. At the moment, the focus is on tackling the immediate fallout – working out how to operate under increased restrictions and trying to mitigate economic meltdown. But, in the face of these immediate hurdles, we should recognise that the crisis also brings with it a unique opportunity to re-set and restructure our organisations in a way that meets a wider set of objectives to purely the financial ones. To borrow a disaster recovery term that has been increasingly referenced – we can, and should, be looking at how we can ‘build back better’ – taking action towards more ethical businesses and a fairer, more inclusive and sustainable society. It is my belief that where organisations do this they will also become more productive, efficient, effective and in the longer term, financially sound.
We have already seen examples of the crisis spurring responsible business practices. In difficult times, we often see the best in human spirit shine through – and it has been inspiring to witness the lengths some organisations have gone to, to do the right thing by customers and employees. Communication from senior executives on how they are protecting the most vulnerable have resonated with customers, as have efforts to collaborate within and across sectors in order to support the wider effort against the virus.
As organisations look to recover and rebuild, they should consider how they can harness this collective spirit of responsibility and avoid slipping back into ‘business as usual’ mode; not only because it is the right thing to do, but because it could be the secret to long-term success. Customer behaviour and expectations are changing – and the patterns we had already begun to see emerge over the past few years have been accelerated by the pandemic. Greater emphasis is being placed on trust, customer ethos and ‘doing the right thing’ – and customers are increasingly looking to organisations to show how strong they are on ethics, social responsibility and good and responsible business practices. We have already seen those that have been deemed to behave irresponsibly throughout the crisis forced to make swift U-turns in the face of public pressure. To earn customers’ trust as we move forward, organisations need to show that they are active participants in generating solutions to the key issues that matter to us as individuals and to society as a whole.
This means showing that we are looking after the wellbeing of our customers and team – balancing people and profits in decision making and ensuring customers, suppliers and employees are treated in a way that engenders loyalty and encourages them to serve customers well.
There are challenging times ahead, but as organisations look to rebuild, they should take the time to stop and reflect – looking at what we have learnt over the past few months and thinking about the footprints they leave as a business, now and in the future. For me, this is about truly reflecting on their purpose; ensuring they are clearly demonstrating and communicating it, and using it as a central pillar around which to make the difficult decisions that lie ahead. In doing so, I believe we can build businesses that are better for customers, employees and stakeholders – and become a service nation that is truly the envy of the world.