Customer service

Why the UK isn't a service-led nation - and how it can be fixed

10th Aug 2018

The UK is dominated by the service sector - so why is the level of service delivered not better?  

The UK is a nation dominated by organisations in the service industry. The World Bank indicated that in 2015 almost 80% of UK GDP came from some type of service. So most of our income and growth then came from that sector, and I guess it’s the same now and that it will continue for the foreseeable future. It’s therefore really important for our economic future post Brexit, that the UK service sector prospers and grows.

But I’m not convinced we really are a service nation in the sense of the word ‘service’ as I understand it. I don’t think the UK service sector is actually delivering the level and/or style of service they should or could be delivering.

Apart from a few exceptions, I think what is delivered is generally poor or at best average and lacklustre. So although it’s our biggest sector, I think it could and would be even bigger if the service was better.

So what if the services delivered were spectacular? What if the level and/or style of service delivery created extreme customer loyalty?

The type of loyalty that was described in a study (and a great book called Lovemarks) by the advertising agency Saatchi and Saatchi as ‘Loyalty Beyond Reason’. Research the world over has shown that this type of customer loyalty is achievable, and that when you have it, the payoff is amazing. There are numerous case studies that indicate that faster growth, higher profits, improved employee morale, lower staff turnover, customers acting as unpaid marketers, and much more, are typical outcomes.

So why is it not happening more widely, especially in the UK service business sector?

I believe there are many reasons for this. Here are just a few from my experience, but I’m sure you could add many more to this list.

  • It’s easy to understand but hard to do – It’s not difficult to appreciate that better service delivery should lead to more loyal customers and in turn, better business performance and results. It is a very easy concept to understand, but that can be a problem. That’s because that fact that it’s easy to understand often leads people to mistakenly think it’s also easy to do, so they then don’t allocate the required effort and resources to it. But it’s definitely not easy to do. If it was, everyone would be doing it. It’s actually very hard to do well and even harder to do consistently so success requires a determination and rigour that many organisations fail to apply.
  • It’s viewed by some leaders as a soft subject – I’m amazed by how many business leaders still view service delivery as a ‘soft’ subject. They view technology, processes, numbers, etc. as the ‘hard’ subjects so they get all the attention and resources. And that’s in spite of the wealth of evidence that shows how much difference a focus on service excellence can make to business results can easily match and in many markets exceed those from the so called hard subjects.
  • Some leaders don’t get it – A friend, who built one of the most successful travel organisations in the UK, which has a world class NPS score, often uses the phrase ‘They Just Don’t Get It’. What he means is that many business leaders he meets claim to be interested in service delivery, but just don’t understand what is needed to make service make a worthwhile difference. They talk a good talk, but when it comes down to providing the right leadership and taking the right actions, their own hearts and minds aren’t in it, they don’t get it, so they don’t know how to stimulate and sustain the passion that is needed for success throughout the organisation.
  • There is a misconception that higher service means higher costs – This is common, but in my experience if you do it right, higher service can result in lower costs. Lower because of longer staff retention with reduced recruitment and training costs, or because of fewer complaints to handle and less complaint calls clogging up phone systems, or because of the reduced need for costly service fixes or recovery, or simply as a result of more loyal customers who cost you less to serve and bring you more business.
  • Some organisations suffer from short-term business thinking – Building a reputation for service excellence takes time. But many organisations are forced into or choose short-term thinking. They therefore try to take short cuts and rush it. But my experience indicates that although that may produce some short-term results, improvements rarely last, so sustainable worthwhile results never follow.
  • The front line recruitment process is flawed – Too many organisations view the delivery of service excellence as a training issue. But it’s not.  It’s a recruitment issue. It doesn’t matter how good the training is, if you don’t have the right people to train in the first place; that’s people with a natural ability for service delivery; no amount of training will turn them into the people you need to deliver worthwhile sustainable results.

So there are a few reasons why I think this isn’t happening, but what do I think can be done to make it happen? I think there are three key steps to success.

  • The first is to ensure that the leadership team fully understand the implications of and requirements for making this work, and have a passion for doing it. I’ve helped many leadership teams, in all kinds of organisations, through this and find that 2 or 3 days of discussion, probably with a few guest speakers from organisations that have already done it, and perhaps accompanied by visits to see some world class examples first hand, can do it.
  • The next is to adopt the ‘inside out’ or ‘viral’ approach. By this I mean training up a team of internal specialists (one of my customers calls them his ‘service ninjas’) to have the understanding, skill and confidence to work with their colleagues throughout the organisation to spread to word, train more people and work with teams to make the changes necessary. I have what I call a Master Practitioner Programme (the next one will be early next year) which has proved to be very successful at training and motivating these people.
  • While this is happening there needs to be event-driven, real-time feedback coming in from both customers and colleagues. This makes it possible to keep a constant check on the on-going progress and to guide the decisions as to what next to do. Alongside this there also needs to be an internal communication programme to ensure that everyone knows what is happening and what progress is being achieved.

There is obviously a lot more to it than this, but the other activities that may be needed will vary from sector to sector and company to company. However, my experience indicates that these three key elements contain the core of what is generally required to get things on track for success.

So turning back to my original thought; Are we really a service-led nation?

I think we are in name but not enough in practice. I do believe however that we could also be a service-leader nation if the above ideas were to be more widely adopted in the UK service sector so it consistently delivered spectacular service. And just think what that could do for the future of the UK GDP!

For more details about Chris’s programmes to help organisations deliver spectacular service go to


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