· 3 min read · Features

HR must champion customer service to help UK profit from Olympics and beyond

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It is our hope that London 2012 acts as a catalyst for a renaissance in customer service standards in the UK, writes Sharon Glancy.

Businesses have a rare opportunity to advance the reputation of the country, cultivate their bottom line and inject life into a languishing economy over the next few years as the UK hosts a succession of world-class sporting events. Following the Olympic and Paralympic Games, in 2014, we have the Ryder Cup and Commonwealth Games and, in 2015, the Rugby World Cup.

The way we look after our visitors will determine whether the world regards us as a successful host, and the way businesses look after customers will determine how much of a share they get in increased revenue generated by huge visitor numbers to these global events. Customer service training could be argued to be critical to the fortunes of business and the growth of the wider economy in the next few years, as we seek to capitalise on the showcase that being a host nation presents. For the vitality of UK business, HR must take the lead and ensure companies have the skills in place to foster a more loyal and growing customer base.

This is not just a private sector issue. Public bodies, such as local authorities, need to invest in the people who will be on the front-line hosting visitors and acting as tourism ambassadors for their region. Many of the pre-Games training camps are being hosted in universities and public facilities the length and breadth of the country, so many regions will have the opportunity to benefit from increased visitor numbers in the short- and longer-term tourism prospects.

Investing in customer service training makes business sense. Research from People 1st's World Class Customer Service for 2012 and Beyond report has shown that 68% of businesses in the UK that implemented customer service training, said generating repeat business was a key benefit, while 18% said they saw increased sales.

The great British public recognises a real need for customer service training too. A recent poll we conducted with YouGov revealed that almost three in four Britons think the UK's customer service needs improving before the Olympics. As a country, we are placed 14th in the international customer service rankings and People 1st's State of the Nation 2010 research report highlighted that 65% of businesses reporting skills gaps, stated staff lacked necessary customer service skills.

As the sector skills council for hospitality, passenger transport, travel and tourism, People 1st is already doing something to address the standard of customer service training in the UK. We have launched a campaign to train 200,000 hospitality and tourism staff ahead of London 2012 through the WorldHost customer service training programme. The programme was developed by the Canadian province of British Columbia and used successfully at the Vancouver Winter Olympics to train 39,000 volunteers and tourism staff last year. Canada is ranked number one in the world for its visitor welcome.

We are working with LOCOG to develop our WorldHost customer service training programme for London 2012 and have just been awarded the London 2012 Inspire mark, which recognises the programme's objective in supporting the legacy themes of the Games. WorldHost training will be offered to tens of thousands of employees and contractors' staff who will be working at the Olympic and Paralympic venues. In addition, WorldHost training is also recommended as one of the legacy programmes for the 2014 Commonwealth Games.

However, we need to be thinking beyond the Olympics and looking at the bigger picture. It is only by driving a consistently high standard of customer service training across all sectors in the UK that we can effect a cultural change in the perception of the warmth of our 'welcome' – which currently lags far behind other countries.

We hope WorldHost will provide the national customer service standard that the UK clearly needs. Businesses recognise this and that is why we have the backing of the Institute of Directors, VisitEngland, VisitScotland and leading employers, including McDonald's, Flybe, Bespoke Hotels, Sodexo, Merlin Entertainments Group and Gleneagles Hotel, to name just a handful.

HR that champions customer service training will ensure their organisation is in the best possible shape to make the most of the opportunities these major sporting events provide and also will help to create a legacy of excellent customer service in the UK from which we can all benefit and prosper.

Sharon Glancy is director, training division, of People 1st Training Company