The 'wow' factor
We’re unaccustomed to economists waxing lyrical, so when a City economist recently declared that the only way to describe the latest data was ‘wow’, his exuberance punctured the gloom which has pervaded economic debate for so long.
Critical numbers adding up to a distinctly more positive picture include: 0.6% growth in GDP in the second quarter; a fall in unemployment; steadily rising UK house prices; a reduction in the trade gap; the first rise in all 13 manufacturing sectors in a single month for 21 years; and service sector growth at a six year high.
New Bank of England Governor Mark Carney has also provided ‘forward guidance’ on interest rates, saying that they would remain unchanged at 0.5% until unemployment falls below 7%, which could take as long as three years.
Taken in aggregate, we appear to be entering a new phase with different pressures and potentially unexpected ramifications for customer contact. The ripple effects will be different for different people. The prospect of greater visibility on the economy and interest rates is almost universally welcome, while, simplistically, the likelihood of a protracted period of low rates is bad news for savers but good news for borrowers with high debts.
Levels of consumer anxiety which front line staff have been dealing with for so long may reduce slightly but not universally as worries mutate. There will still be customer angst, customer churn, payment defaults and other vexing and complex issues to deal with, particularly as the economy is likely to follow a ‘zig-zag’ path to recovery. There may also be pressure on teams dealing with new sales and customer loyalty as greater prosperity loosens consumer purse strings but sharpens competition.
Also, let’s not forget the sobering fact that more businesses fail coming out of a recession than in the midst of it and a prime reason is that they have failed to plan effectively for growth and lack the resources, including people, needed to take advantage of a growth environment.
Now is a good time to start thinking about whether you have the right customer service teams, processes and systems required to thrive in a growth environment. Concerns over employee churn abated during the recession but churn rates will likely increase in a healthier economy. Arguably, it is healthy to have some degree of churn as it makes way for new talent. Overall, the key message is that recruiting, retaining, recognising and rewarding your best people will assume greater importance.
The release of A’ level results this week is a timely reminder of a need to target a new generation of workers. We encourage employers to recruit more under-25s who may lack traditional work experience but possess valuable digital communication skills which are sorely needed in customer contact operations. I hope all the parents among you who were anxiously awaiting your children’s exam results have cause for celebration.
Talking of celebrating success, we are delighted at the enthusiastic response to our Excellence Awards and we have been really inspired by the individual tales of commitment and achievement by agents, team leaders and senior managers across every sector.
The people on our awards shortlist are highly-skilled, highly-motivated, well-trained and well-managed and precisely the kind of people required to handle the flow of complex customer enquiries that will be as prevalent in a growth environment as they are in a downturn.
Recognising and rewarding excellence really matters. At our Excellence Awards Gala Dinner this year our compere will be impressionist Jon Culshaw and we hope many of you will take an opportunity to ‘wow’ your colleagues and your clients by treating them to a great evening and a great performance from the ‘man of many faces.’
As the economy begins to turn, we need to think both about the face we present to customers and whether the way we serve them needs to adapt to a new economic landscape.