The service sector continues to be the one bright spot in the UK economy. But rather than build on this to become a global leader in customer experience, the sector is still discussed in negative terms. Natalie Calvert says we need fewer naysayers and more service sector champions.
My recent blog: Introducing the people who will save UK PLC, put the spotlight on the unheralded service sector workers who prop up our economy. In that blog, I talked about the lack of recognition given to the service sector while other industries such as pharmaceuticals, IT and engineering seem to attract investment despite contributing much less to our economy.
Now I want to talk about who is championing service professionals. I’ve encountered some fantastic reward and recognition programmes used by businesses around the country. Some favour financial reward, some invest in training and development to improve the skills of their workers, while others favour the more traditional (but often very effective) pat-on-the-back approach. The most effective organisations offer a combination of the three. Whatever the approach, the point is to make service professionals feel valued and many organisations do a good job of this.
But there are still too many businesses who still don’t see the value in service professionals. They expect a level of service because they pay a salary and are then surprised by mediocre customer satisfaction figures and high staff turnover. The psychology isn’t hard to understand. People need recognition and encouragement to continue performing, especially in a high-pressure environment, which the front line of delivering service invariably is.
I believe it is the ethical duty of service sector leaders to recognise the achievements and efforts of their staff. Yet this isn’t a totally altruistic endeavour. Happy staff are more productive, sell more, retain customers more effectively and deliver better service at a lower cost.
Who is championing the service sector?
Internal reward and recognition are powerful, with one critical limitation. These schemes have no visibility beyond the walls of the organisation. In other words, no one apart from those working within the business sees the incredible endeavour and dedication demonstrated by service professionals. For the service sector to get the respect it deserves, this is inadequate. We need high profile people to champion the sector.
Ideally, this would be people on the political and international stage. But sadly, I think the possibility of this happening is very low because the industry itself has such a low opinion of itself. If people working in the service sector speak negatively about the industry, how can we expect people with less knowledge of it to speak in positive terms?
I don’t believe we are well supported by the industry trade bodies, event and award organisers. All too often, I see organisations given plaudits or a platform to speak when they don’t deserve it. Organisations which offer poor service but have been given an award or speaking slot purely because they have money to spend with the host organisations.
This sends a terrible message beyond the industry. It suggests a lack of authenticity and a money-first attitude to service provision. This perception needs to change and it won’t be easy.
We need people to become more vocal and positive about the service sector. We need service sector champions.
I wouldn’t claim to have the reach or influence needed to become THE service sector spokesperson. But I do believe that I am part of a community of like-minded people who could collectively become the Champion this industry needs. To work hard to reverse the negative perceptions and remind business leaders that the UK is a service economy and that we should be proud of this.
The UK has always taken a leading role in the global economy. It was once at the vanguard of engineering and manufacturing. More recently, it has led the financial sector. And now as business becomes increasingly driven by services - and customer experience - the UK can once again carry the torch around the world.
The UK is a service-sector leader - and for good reason. Let’s promote the positive stories, share each other's successes, encourage new ideas and approaches to improving the way we work and encourage people at all levels to achieve their potential. Let’s champion service and enjoy the benefits for years to come.