Why customer service is the most important competition at the 2012 Olympics

25th Oct 2010

Whether the London 2012 Games will be an opportunity or threat to the UK economy could rest on whether we're prepared to offer world class service to visitors in 2012.

Preparations for the London 2012 Games are on track. Construction of the main venues and infrastructure in the Olympic Park is well underway. There is no doubt that the surrounding area will be transformed and that the Games will leave a legacy which will benefit many aspects of life including sport, culture, volunteering, business and tourism. It will also lead to the creation of thousands of new jobs in communities. 
Employment and training opportunities are being created for local people and a wealth of benefits will flow to the wider communities. There will be additional opportunities for UK citizens and for many businesses. Around half a million visitors and spectators are expected every day, many from overseas, and a significant proportion of them are expected to take extended holidays in the UK to coincide with the Olympic and Paralympic Games.
Will visitors experience outstanding customer service?
So the preparations are all in place and the UK is paving the way for a successful Games. But what about the actual experiences – as customers - of all the visitors, spectators and others involved? Will the Games enhance the world’s view of the UK as a desirable place to visit and to do business with in the future? Surely, that also is what we really mean by a lasting legacy of the Games. Yes, the legacy of improvements to the infrastructure, buildings, roads, venues and employment prospects for the area surrounding the Olympic Park and other areas of the UK is set to improve drastically. 
But I want to question the legacy for future business and tourism which can affect the whole of the UK. Specifically, are we doing enough to ensure that all those millions of individual interactions with the UK’s people and businesses result in an outstanding experience of 2012? In short, will visitors experience outstanding customer service?
In my view, it is essential right now for everyone involved to fully understand the key role of customer service in the 2012 Games. We must ensure that visitors, spectators, Games participants and their supporting teams are all given a genuinely warm welcome followed by outstanding service experiences.
Why customer service professionals are essential to the success of the 2012 Olympics
A fully engaged workforce is vital to create world-class customer experiences for our visitors and competitors. The Games will provide the ideal catalyst to understand the importance of employing and developing customer service professionals. The starting point for the delivery of exceptional service is the people who will deliver it, so we need individuals who genuinely want to make a difference when they deal with the 2012 visitors. However, the vision (of outstanding customer service) must also come from the Olympic stakeholders.
It is crucial that everyone involved in the 2012 community has a positive, can-do attitude at all times. That means pulling out all the stops to provide gold-medal service experiences for all visitors, both during the Games and beyond. Training and development in the critical skills of communication, empathy and problem-solving will be essential prerequisites to achieving service excellence. Just as athletes practice constantly to ensure peak performance, world-class customer service relies on an inherent awareness of the need to do your best and a deep understanding of how customers’ service experiences are optimised. 
China showed customer service at its best through friendliness and efficiency. The UK should go its extra mile, not through an even more glittering opening ceremony, but by ensuring that all those involved in supporting the Games have the knowledge and skills to become world-class customer service professionals. We have an impressive Chinese act to follow but we can achieve this goal by rewarding these people through highly effective, accredited training programmes that will also equip them for a future in any organisation.
Making it happen
We are a service economy and the service sector will need be in the best possible shape, fit, prepared and ready to show the waiting and watching world that we can, and will, deliver levels of customer service to match every expectation and more. Hotels, restaurants, cafes, bars, utility firms, retailers and service staff in every frontline role need to be ready for the challenge to provide the customer experience of a lifetime. Key topics for London 2012 will be important issues around culture and diversity with skilled customer service professionals who also understand the importance of tourism and attracting new business to the UK, thus helping to develop individuals who really understand the economic importance of this world class event to England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
London 2012 should be a catalyst for thousands of organisations and customer-facing individuals to re-adjust their attitude and approach towards raising customer experiences. It is an opportunity for the UK to shine and provide service fit for champions, creating a cohort of world class employees with a positive attitude towards people from all cultures around the globe. The UK can become truly customer-centric, putting people at the heart of every endeavour and resulting in the UK becoming one of the foremost world class destinations for businesses and visitors.
Stephanie Edwards is managing director of Customer 1st International, and Customer 1st Learning.

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