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Customer facing staff are the bedrock of our economy

A letter in the Financial Times on 20 April 2022 caught our eye. It was from Jo Causon, Chief Executive of the Institute of Customer Service. What stopped us in our tracks was a statistic that she quoted. She said "customer facing staff account for 61% of the nation's workforce". Since we are in the business of customer service we were naturally interested. This is a huge percentage of the UK workforce. Her letter argues that these staff, who are the bedrock of our economy, aren't taken seriously in recruitment and training.

Let's think about what customer facing means. It is very obvious if you are being served in a restaurant or bar that you are being looked after by customer facing staff. However, customer facing staff could also exchange emails with customers reply to customers on social media posts, talk to them on the phone and meet them face-to-face. We could argue that a lot of people behind the scenes also contribute hugely to customer service: the chef preparing the meal, the accounts department dealing with the invoices, the production team that processes an order, all have a significant impact on customer service. What about council employees who deal with residents or hospital staff looking after patients or teachers looking after students? Aren’t they all customer facing?

Jo Causon has a point. Whatever the true percentage of people who are customer facing, it is a lot. The travesty is that a good proportion, we think the majority, are not trained or accredited for their skills.

The soft skills of customer service are often regarded as trivial. Many people assume that these are not difficult skills to acquire or polish. After all, surely you just need a nice smile and to say “have a nice day”.

We would argue that the soft skills of customer service are some of the most difficult to acquire and develop. Dealing with the public (we are talking about you and us) can be horrendous. It isn’t easy to keep that smile and stay positive all day.

Customer service staff are frequently regarded to be at the bottom of the pyramid. The customer may be king but the person who serves the king is a nobody. It is perceived that anyone can do that job. And herein lies the problem. It is true that almost anyone can do the job, but they cannot do it well. A good customer service agent will leave the customer feeling that they can’t wait to come back for more. A good customer service experience will be talked about many times resulting in whoever hears about it wanting some of the same. A company’s greatest assets are its customers because without customers there is no company. And it is customer service people who keep those customers coming.


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