An interview with Jo Causon: the state of customer service

Jo Causon is the CEO of The Institute of Customer Service. Since joining The Institute in 2009, she has driven membership growth by 150 per cent and established the UK Customer Satisfaction Index as the country’s premier indicator of customer satisfaction.

What follows is an interview with Jo Causon on the state of today’s customer service.


The results of the UK Customer Satisfaction Index (UKCSI) show that customer satisfaction has risen to 78.2; and is now at its highest ever point since January 2013. It is good to see things moving in the right direction, but there’s no room for complacency.

Despite these improvements, more customers say they experienced a problem dealing with an organisation compared to a year ago. In addition, while it would appear that many organisations have become better at dealing with complaints, customers are having to work harder to get what they want, suggesting problems are not being effectively prevented at source. Customer satisfaction may be increasing, but so is customer effort.

Customer effort is the amount of energy that the average consumer will put into making a transaction run smoothly with an organisation.

At an industry sector level, the UKCSI shows that levels of customer satisfaction in retail, leisure and tourism and automotive sectors are relatively high, but the telecoms, transport and utilities industries are still lagging behind.

As customers have less money in their pockets and exchange rates fluctuate, they begin to count their pennies against rising inflation. We’ve become more conscious when spending money, making the delivery of high customer service standards even more important.

Ease of business

We know that good customer service is significantly impacted by how easy it is to do business with an organisation. For customers, the ability to interact with staff that are professional, competent and empathetic is vital. There’s nothing more frustrating than dealing with the typical ‘computer says no’ response when trying to resolve a customer service enquiry.

Top performers for customer satisfaction – like Amazon, First Direct, John Lewis and Aldi – are those which score highly for human interaction measures.

Our research also shows that 28 per cent of consumers would be willing to pay more for better customer service, so it’s the organisations that focus on the service agenda that will remain or become successful in the future.

The introduction of technology

The introduction of technology to the customer service realm has made significant changes to how organisations manage customer enquiries. Technology can have a fabulous part to play in transactional delivery — reducing cost and increasing effectiveness and productivity.

The implementation of live chat applications, social media and automation software has given organisations the ability to share information and knowledge much easier, quicker and, in some cases, without the need for human interaction.

However, customer service is not just a transaction. Good customer service relies on a mutual understanding between the customer and the purpose of the organisation — and being able to deliver excellence for both.

Technology may be able to improve the transactional elements of customer service but we still require the additional value of human interaction to be able to create the sort of relationship that leads to loyalty, advocacy, and sustained business growth.

In fact, I don’t see a day when technology will completely successfully replace human interaction in customer service. For organisations, it’s important that we learn to strike a balance between technology and human beings and identify the appropriate way to respond to a customer.

Too much tech

Recently, I visited a restaurant that used iPads to take customer orders. Technologically, the transaction was successful and the order went through without a hiccup.

However, the experience was dampened by the lack of eye contact and friendliness from the waiter when my meal was delivered to the table. There’s no doubt that technology can increase the speed and efficiency of transactional tasks, but no amount of technology can save a company from poor customer service.  

Our research proves that there’s a direct correlation between customer satisfaction and customer trust, and human interaction is essential to build this level of trust. In fact, it is those organisations with high customer satisfaction that also have high levels of trust, reputation and loyalty.

Technology is great, but in the customer service realm we can’t afford to robotise our people. For more complex or personal interactions, there will always be a requirement for a highly skilled and empathetic customer experience professional.

Final thoughts

There’s a common misconception that customer service is a soft subject area, but it’s one of the more critical business areas for the UK. The vision of The Institute of Customer Service is for a world where customer experience makes a positive and sustained impact on individuals, organisations and the economic wellbeing of the UK.

79 per cent of GDP in the UK is services related, and 70 per cent of our workforce is employed in customer related roles. Achieving our goal is important to drive up the service agenda.

Technology certainly has a role to play, but it is how organisations integrate this technology into existing human interaction that will make or break brand reputations. 

NB: This interview is an extract from our book, The Conversation Engine. To read the full work, download a free copy here: