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Improving customer service skills is on the HRD's agenda

This week HR directors are being urged to ask how they can improve the customer interaction skills of staff, as the Institute of Customer Service launches National Customer Service Week (6-11 October) today.

Paul Cooper, ICS director, said: "In tough economic times, the business case for making improvements in customer service are clear. Holding onto customers is eight times cheaper than trying to win new ones.

Customer Service Week is not just pertinent to shops, but is also an important target for local councils. From this month councils must report to government why residents are contacting them and how often calls fail or need more than one call before they are resolved. It comes under National Indicator 14 - one of 190 measures local government has to comply with.

Sean Andserson (pictured), head of customer services at West Berkshire Council, this year installed the Siemens HiPath ProCentre customer care solution. He said: "Indicator 14 is actually a government measure that adds value because it enables councils to see what gaps they have in their service. Our system automatically routes calls direct to staff who are qualified to deal with them."

The council's 2007-2011 customer service plan sets targets of 80% of its 500,000 per year calls being dealt with after the first call - a target it has already reached.

Anderson added: "More than 85% of calls are dealt with in 30 seconds, and our customer feedback shows satisfaction has increased from 58% two years ago to 75% today."

ICS's Cooper said: "Excellent customer service makes consumers twice as likely to stay loyal and four times more likely to buy again and recommend the organisation."