Don't let cost cutting damage customer service

ICS chief executive David Parsons says instead of adopting a ‘slash and burn’ approach during the economic crisis, organisations should take steps to safeguard and strengthen their customer relationships.

Speaking at the ICS annual conference, David emphasised that the current climate made it more important than ever to listen to customers and to understand and meet their expectations.

“Few had expected the storm to gather as quickly as it has and to some extent the future has arrived with a vengeance,” he told delegates at the London conference.

“Battening down the hatches is inevitable and essential. It would be naive to argue that such measures should never include saving costs – but organisations should resist taking actions that will have a detrimental effect both on the quality of service and the strength of their relationships with customers.”

David warns that ‘battening down the hatches’ should not mean damaging service strategies that enhance an organisation’s reputation, or harm efforts to put service at the heart of organisational culture. This could expose companies to criticism that ‘they haven’t got the courage of their own conviction when times get tough’ from staff and customers.

Employers should also avoid cutting staff numbers at the points of customer contact that drive satisfaction levels and repeat business – particularly if done indiscriminately without regard to individual competence and skills. Nor should they put investment in people, especially their skills development, on hold; or ignore existing customers to focus on winning new customers.

“Keeping the right people to deliver the services and experiences that customers want is crucial,” said David. “Reducing costs while continuing to deliver value-for-money service is now imperative, but not at the expense of customer service professionals - the very people that survey after survey says UK employers are crying out for.

“What we need more of, especially in such difficult times, is what a number of business leaders refer to as ‘good old-fashioned customer relationships’.

“It’s important to build and retain loyalty by providing value for money which is not just about cost. And it’s now more important than ever for organisations to ensure their staff can deliver an even higher quality experience to their customers.

“Organisations with the courage and conviction to avoid falling into the old trap of slash and burn are the ones that will weather the storm most successfully by retaining their customers. They are also the ones that will be in the best position to take advantage of the upturn when it comes.”

All good sound advice but these really are difficult times.