Jo Causon: “Customer satisfaction in 2023 was at the lowest we’ve seen since 2015”
An interview with the CEO of The Institute of Customer Service
To prepare for 2024 and equip ourselves with the tools we need to succeed, it is important to look back at the year that has gone by and the lessons we have learned. This month, we reached out to Jo Causon, CEO of The Institute of Customer Service, to find out what she predicts for 2024 and what the ICS will be focusing on.
WHAT LESSONS DID YOU LEARN DURING 2023?
It’s safe to say 2023 has been a challenging year for businesses across every sector, as well as their customers. Rampant inflation, a cost-of-living crisis, and geopolitical uncertainty have meant that the average consumer has been hit hard – and on top of that, customer service has taken a sharp decline according to The Institute’s research. Our UK Customer Satisfaction Index showed that customer satisfaction in 2023 was at the lowest we’ve seen since 2015 – and the gap between the top and the bottom of this list is widening, as those offering consistently great service are pulling away from their competitors.
2023 saw customer service arriving at something of a crossroads. In an attempt to address both cost reduction and falling customer service, UK businesses turned to technology – and often overestimated their ability to integrate customer experience, data, processes, systems, and applications. The takeaway here is that service is still, above all, about personal connections – and about having human oversight even as the use of technology rises. Tech and AI have the potential to enrich our lives and service experiences, but we must never lose sight of knowing when human intervention really matters to create a genuinely personal experience.
Another big learning from our own research this year has been around the significant return on investment (ROI) for companies who are getting their service offering right. Results we published in the second half of 2023 highlight that organisations maintaining above average customer satisfaction in their sector have 10% higher levels of EBITDA (a key measure of profitability), 7% higher levels of revenue growth, and over twice the level of human productivity.
And lastly, our research – as well as my conversations with UK business leaders – has shown, as always, that organisations doing it right are embedding a service culture from the boardroom down rather than viewing customer service as a standalone initiative or a department.
WHAT ARE YOUR CX PREDICTIONS FOR 2024?
Customer service is set to remain under pressure in 2024, due to several factors. Not only is the consumer of 2024 increasingly cash-strapped, discerning, and searching for value, but the business landscape is also under pressure as the impacts of higher inflation and cost to service debt is still very present. For those in the regulated sectors we will see an even greater focus on minimum standards and organisations doing the right thing by their customers.
This leads to another key trend – demonstrating the ROI of customer service will be critical in 2024, as business leaders seek to cut costs. The ability to articulate the links between employee engagement, productivity, customer satisfaction and financial performance will be a huge differentiator in the coming year and should be a key focus for CX leaders and influencers.
Naturally, we can’t discuss future trends without mentioning the growth of AI and automation. While I strongly believe that implementing new technology cannot cause a loss of human connection, AI has massive potential to improve efficiency, streamline processes, and utilise data. Customer feedback and our own research has shown that companies are not always getting this right, particularly with simple things like chatbots and directing queries in the right direction. So, while the AI revolution will continue in 2024, it mustn’t be at the expense of human service and assistance where needed.
Another important trend we will see is successful companies viewing customer service as a reputational asset – and understanding the significant brand damage that can be caused should they get it wrong. This ties in with the increased regulatory focus. Across all sectors, both regulated and not, the focus on transparency, accountability, and ownership will continue to sharpen.
And finally, the growth of EDI (Equality, Diversity, and Inclusivity) as a key component of corporate strategies will continue in 2024. This will include creating more diverse and inclusive workplaces, as well as weaving EDI messaging into the mission, vision, and values of your organisation. For service, this will lead to a greater focus on understanding the diversity of customer bases.
As always, the organisations who understand this landscape, and who put excellence in service at the heart of their strategies for 2024, will come out on top.
WHAT WILL YOU BE FOCUSING ON THIS YEAR?
Although the UK landscape in 2024 may be in flux, up to and including a possible General Election, our mission at The Institute is the same – embedding a service culture across every sector in the UK remains our top priority for the coming year. We will continue to conduct essential research, and work with Government, regulators, and our members to ensure the service agenda remains top of mind. Our next UKCSI, coming out in late January, will set the tone for us for the year and inform how we will approach improving the service landscape.
We will also continue campaigning for improved working conditions for the UK’s customer facing staff – abuse of customer service staff remains a significant issue across all sectors. Late last year I penned an open letter, signed by more than 55 CEOs, business leaders and politicians, calling on the policing minister to ensure assaults on public service workers are recorded separately in police statistics. We will continue to keep this top of agenda for 2024.
Overall, despite some negative outlooks coming into the New Year, I am confident that 2024 will be the year of customer service as a differentiator – and my focus will be on making sure this is understood, at board level, by UK organisations.