With decreasing budgets and increasing workloads, will providing high standards of customer service really be a top priority for the public sector?
Whether it’s in our personal or professional lives, great customer service is something that we have all come to expect. But for a long time, the public sector has has had a difficult time of it as customers perceive a poor standard of service.
With decreasing budgets and increasing workloads, will providing a high standard of customer service really be a top priority for those delivering our local services?
As taxpayers, we will always expect to see our bins emptied, our children well-educated, and health services well-staffed. In some areas where rates are increasing, we will only have higher expectations that these services will be delivered, and delivered well.
Research by the Institute of Customer Service (ICS), the professional body for customer service, has shown a decline in customer satisfaction in all sectors over the past year, and the public sector is no exception. A recent research paper published by ICS further investigates the issue, becoming increasingly apparent as public organisations look to address the challenge of rising customer expectations whilst under extreme financial pressure.
As a publicly-owned body, at YPO we have taken this issue to heart. In 2013, we took the decision to become ICS members. We are one of only a handful of public bodies to be registered with ICS - truly putting customer service at the core of all our activities.
Since becoming members we have implemented a number of improvement initiatives. One of our most successful is an organisational-wide training programme in customer service skills, which has seen over 100 fantastic ideas proposed, owned and delivered by our staff themselves.
Importantly, our relationship with ICS means we are benchmarking our activities against some of the leading organisations for customer service in the UK. After surveying our customers through ICS in March 2014, we were delighted to be benchmarked third on the UK Customer Satisfaction Index at 87%, way above the national average and just behind Amazon and John Lewis.
In December, I was delighted to be invited to become a Vice President of ICS, sitting alongside some of the leading private sector organisations to discuss new national initiatives. Last week, some of the most recent were discussed at the ICS National Conference, a fantastic forum for sharing good practice and developing ideas.
Later in the evening I also attended the UK Customer Satisfaction Awards, where we were delighted to be shortlisted for three awards - Customer Strategic Leadership, Customer Commitment and the HR Employee Engagement - rubbing shoulders with the likes of Marks & Spencer, Lloyds Bank and Direct Line.
But we haven’t taken this early success for granted. Over the next few years we will be continuing to put more initiatives in place in order to improve customer satisfaction.
So to revisit the title of this blog - why should customer service be a priority for public bodies? Customers are at the heart of every organisation, and regardless of internal politics, they expect a high standard of service to be delivered. It certainly is a top priority for us. Whether public or private, the concept of the customer is fundamentally the same, and so customer service should always remain top of the agenda.