UK boardrooms are out of touch with customer needs
Most UK CEOs and boards have no understanding of what customers want, yet ignore experienced frontline employees, according to the latest report from The Institute of Customer Service. Many also fail to lead by example by exhibiting the skills front-line staff judge as vital to the delivery of quality customer service.
The report, called ‘Leading by Example’, is based on the views of 650 employees and line managers. It reveals that only half (51%) think their CEO and board are interested in customer insight. Additionally, less than 50% also believe that senior executives understand customer needs.
Worryingly, only 36% of managers think their senior executives ‘actively listen’ to customers in an effort to improve service, whilst fewer than half (44%) of frontline staff also feel their ideas are taken on board.
Employees also raise concerns that customer needs are not taken seriously enough. Only 28% say that, in their organisation, a Board member has responsibility for customer service. Half (51%) also believe boardrooms ‘put profits before the delivery of a great customer experience’,
Jo Causon, CEO of The Institute of Customer Service, said: “If employees suggest that customer needs are not understood in the boardroom, what must customers be feeling? Unless the UK’s C-suite takes the time to analyse customer preferences, behaviour and levels of satisfaction, they should not be surprised if the bottom line is hit as customers go elsewhere.
“Our research shows that there are many leaders who adopt a customer-centric approach to business strategy, but all Boards need to have representatives who either have direct experience of customer service roles. If such a role doesn’t exist, they need to develop the skills, insight and vision to ensure that the customer is a constant reference point.”
However, it is not all bad news for UK boardrooms as 56% of the employees questioned said the way they are incentivised to provide good customer service is right. Two thirds (66%) also said that, at the very least, their boardroom ‘recognises me for the contribution I make to customer service’.
The Institute’s report goes on to identify the skills and structures that CEOs should develop to improve their customer service capabilities. Key findings suggest that boards need to:
– create a boardroom language around customer service to reflect business performance, risk and reputational issues
– develop reporting metrics based on customer service, so their organisation can be forward-looking rather than simply reporting on financial results
– improve their collaborative and listening skills, so the C-suite is better informed about what customer-facing staff learn and deal with on a daily basis
As part of the research 30 business leaders were also interviewed to provide examples of best practice customer service. They agreed with line managers responding to the survey who suggested that their CEO should recruit people with the right attitude (53%), invest in better customer service technology (51%) and provide more customer service training for staff (43%).
Jo said: “The insight gained from front-line employees is vital for leaders to understand what they need to do to be personally effective and, also, to develop future leaders within their organisation. Many employees remain unconvinced that their voices are being heard and this must be addressed quickly, before the gap between what leaders and staff see as reality is allowed to widen.”