By Jo Causon, CEO, The Institute of Customer Service
There is no escaping that the Covid-19 pandemic has dealt a huge blow to our economy, not least our service sector. The impact of mass closures and rising unemployment levels have seen a huge drop in consumer spending, and the impact of what is now the deepest recession since records began will be felt long into the future.
However, as we begin to emerge from lockdown, we are seeing a cautious confidence in our economic recovery. Indeed, the latest PMI figures reflected growth in the UK service sector as lockdown measures eased. Yet, with many customers still hesitant about returning to pre-pandemic behaviours, and certain parts of the country facing local lockdowns, organisations must not let these glimmers of hope cause them to rest on their laurels when it comes to their service offering.
Following the last recession in 2008, we saw a collapse in customer satisfaction, with an increase in both complaints and the cost to serve customers. If we are to recover from the catastrophic impact of the Coronavirus pandemic, it is crucial we do not repeat the mistakes of the past. As we have seen play out time and time again – customer satisfaction is intrinsically linked to business performance. Excellent customer service delivers better financial results and helps improve productivity. If we are to successfully pull the nation out of recession, service must become a high level boardroom priority.
Customer satisfaction also builds trust and reputation – which will be more vital than ever as we emerge from the crisis. Economic uncertainty will lead customers to become even more discerning with the brands they choose to engage with, and one bad experience could send them running into the arms of a competitor. Businesses must keep a sharp focus on the changing needs of their customer base, listening to feedback and adapting business models to meet shifting priorities.
It has been encouraging to see the increased focus on service shown by many organisations over the course of the crisis; with businesses across the country working hard to deliver in the face of increased restrictions and an ever-growing number of vulnerable customers. However, there have been an equal number that have fallen short – and the results of our latest UKCSI research show customer satisfaction has flat lined in the past six months.
There will be many difficult and complex issues to come as we navigate our way out of the crisis – but organisations must not give in to the temptation to forego long-term customer relationships for short term gains. Now is not the time to take our eye off the ball. We must put service at the heart of rebound efforts – and in doing so; we can unlock customer satisfaction, boost productivity and build a true service nation.