Jo Causon, CEO of the Institute of Customer Service explains the role of customer focus in the UK recovery.

A former director of marketing and corporate affairs at the Chartered Management Institute, with over a decade of experience in financial services, Jo Causon is CEO of the Institute of Customer Service (ICS) — an expert and independent professional body that enables around 340 of the UK’s best known brands and largest public sector organisations, and 6,000 individual members, to improve their customers’ experiences and their business performance.

A firm believer that customer service excellence will not only help organisations ride out the recession but can also help them to drive the recovery, Jo will be looking for the best examples this year as a judge on the Customer Focus Award panel. To get an insight into Jo’s philosophy of customer service excellence, National business award (NBA) Editorial Director Alex Evans caught up with her for a chat:

AE: Why should customer service excellence be higher up the agenda for UK plc?

JC: Interestingly, this was the topic of debate recently for a meeting of our vice presidents who represent a broad spectrum of the UK business community. Whatever their sector, they were all unanimous in identifying that the UK needs to develop its service skills in order to improve its competitive position in what is now a global marketplace, where the balance of power is shifting.

Over 70% of this country’s GDP comes from service related industries and we need to exploit our customer service expertise by making the country the go-to destination for service. To do that we need to develop the skills of individuals, who in turn will enable the organisations for whom they work to be more efficient, and more able to cut waste — to be more agile and responsive to the global marketplace with its ever more demanding customers and consumers. It is also worth remembering that it was estimated in 2009 that poor customer service costs the UK over £15.3 billion a year! That is a staggering sum.

AE: How can better customer service help to improve staff engagement?

JC: The two are inextricably linked. Our own research proves that staff who are able to satisfy the needs of customers, who are customer focused and properly trained and supported, have a higher level of engagement. As such Institute research indicates a 24% higher net profit margin and an additional 71% higher profit per employee. In 2009 the MacLeod and Clarke report for the then Government on employee engagement showed a 12% rise in profitably; an 18% increase in productivity and a 43% hike in revenue — not to mention five fewer sick days a year per employee, who would also be 87% less likely to leave the organisation.

AE: What is the most innovative approach to customer service you have seen in the last year?

JC: Where an organisation has truly aligned its processes, people and strategy. I still believe there is some way to go on this, but there are a number of brands that are really asking for the consumer’s input into product and service development and genuinely responding to this. I believe that co-creation will continue to be of vital importance going forward. As a leading businessman said to me a number of years ago there will come a day when we employ and pay people to be customers, to ensure we really understand the experience that paying customers have of our brands.

AE: Why is it important to have a category dedicated to customer service in the National Business Awards?

JC: The National Business Awards celebrate the best in UK business. I think it is important that we have a customer service category in the Awards to recognise the fact that a focus on the customer is the only sustainable competitive advantage any organisation can hope to have in a rapidly changing world. As I said earlier, it is pleasing to see that many organisations, which are leading performers in their field, are making customer service a strategic business driver.

AE: What will you be looking for from this year’s winner of the Customer Focus Award?

JC: What is always pleasing about this category is the determination of the entrants to serve their customers, often in difficult economic and market circumstances. However, what I will be looking for in particular in the winner is evidence that the organisation really understands its customer’s needs; has sought to meet - or indeed to exceed - these. But more than this I will be looking for evidence that the organisation understands the effects that this customer focus has on the performance of organisation’s bottom line.

Jo Causon will join Natalie Calvert, Founder & MD of Calcom Group; Claudia Hathway, Editor of Customer Strategy Network; and Steve Morris, Head of Viewer Services at ITV on the judging panel for the Customer Focus Award. All winners will be announced at the Gala Dinner on 8th November at the Grosvenor House Hotel. To book your place or reserve a table to call 0207 234 8755, email Anthony.akoto@ubm.com or visit www.nationalbusinessawards.co.uk for details.