Most UK CEOs and boards have no understanding of what customers want and ignore experienced frontline employees, while many also fail to lead by example by exhibiting the skills front-line staff judge vital to the delivery of customer service, according a report from the Institute of Customer Service. This article is copyright 2015 The Best Customer Guide.

The report, entitled 'Leading by Example', was based on the views of 650 employees and line managers and found that only half (51%) think their CEO and Board are interested in customer insight. Additionally, less than 50% also believe that senior executives understand customer needs.

Worryingly, only 36% of managers think their senior executives 'actively listen' to customers in an effort to improve service, whilst fewer than half (44%) of frontline staff also feel their ideas are taken on board.

Employees also raise concerns that customer needs are not taken seriously enough. Only 28% say that, in their organisation, a Board member has responsibility for customer service. Half (51%) also believe Boardrooms 'put profits before the delivery of a great customer experience',

"If employees suggest that customer needs are not understood in the Boardroom, what must customers be feeling? Unless the UK's C-suite takes the time to analyse customer preferences, behaviour and levels of satisfaction, they should not be surprised if the bottom line is hit as customers go elsewhere," said Jo Causon, CEO for the Institute of Customer Service. "There are many leaders who adopt a customer-centric approach to business strategy, but all boards need to have representatives with direct experience of customer service roles."

However, it is not all bad news for the boardroom as 56% of the employees questioned said the way they are incentivised to provide good customer service is right. Two thirds (66%) also said that, at the very least, their boardroom "recognises me for the contribution I make to customer service".

The Institute's report also identified the skills and structures that CEOs need to develop to improve their customer service capabilities. Its findings suggest that boards need to:

  • Create a Boardroom language around customer service to reflect business performance, risk and reputational issues;
  • Develop reporting metrics based on customer service, so their organisation can be forward-looking rather than simply reporting on financial results;
  • Improve their collaborative and listening skills, so the C-suite is better informed about what customer-facing staff learn and deal with on a daily basis.

As part of the research 30 business leaders were also interviewed to provide examples of best practice customer service. They agreed with line managers responding to the survey who suggested that their CEO should recruit people with the right attitude (53%), invest in better customer service technology (51%) and provide more customer service training for staff (43%).

"The insight gained from front-line employees is vital for leaders to understand what they need to do to be personally effective and, also, to develop future leaders within their organisation," concluded Causon. "Many employees remain unconvinced that their voices are being heard and this must be addressed quickly, before the gap between what leaders and staff see as reality is allowed to widen."