Going the Extra Mile at The National Customer Service Awards

The ninth annual National Customer Service Awards took place at the Grosvenor House Hotel in London, England. The atmosphere was electric!

Given the current economic climate and all the doom and gloom surrounding the credit crunch, the Customer Service Awards 2008 were a great opportunity to boost morale and recognise the positive achievements within the customer service industry.

A total of twenty-eight awards were presented at the Ceremony and Dinner held in the Great Room in front of an audience of over 1,700 people. The fact that the Grosvenor House Hotel is the biggest venue in London is surely testament to the positive work being done across the Customer Service Industry.

Host Michael McIntyre from BBC 2’s Mock the Week certainly knew how to keep the crowd entertained, with his quick wit and banter. Coupled with the distinct voice of the National Lottery’s Alan Dedicoat announcing the Customer Service Award winners, an uplifting vibe was created at this Oscar style ceremony.

Despite McIntyre’s quips about call centres, the common misrepresentation that customer service is all about dealing with the frustration of automated telephone systems was dispelled by the sheer variety of awards given out during the evening. The National Customer Service Awards give companies an opportunity to share their success stories and let the judges know how they are improving customer service within their organisations. Entries are submitted from companies across the whole industry, from small organisations to household names and it was great to see such a diverse spectrum of companies represented at the awards dinner.

It was refreshing to see companies such as the True Lovers Knot getting recognition for the service they provide. Antony Marshall accepted the SOCAP award for Innovation in Customer Service in recognition of the outstanding work carried out to ensure that all his customers’ needs are met. He is committed to ensuring that his pub in the heart of Dorset is as accessible as possible for those with limited mobility and wheelchair users, also addressing their menu so that diabetics, coeliacs and individuals with lactose intolerance are all catered for. I spoke to Antony to ask what it meant for their work to be recognised alongside all these big companies in this way:

“When you look at the firms we were up against, these global powerful companies like Lloyds TSB and MacDonald Hotels and you consider that we are a single site pub, winning is incredible. It absolutely blew us away. It really was a case of David and Goliath. We were the smallest firm by tens of thousands. If you look at our website, you’ll see that we’ve won awards that should have been out of our league, but then customer service is about every size company”.

National Customer Service Awards Ceremony

I wasn’t expecting a pub to be nominated amongst all the other companies, but they are most definitely a worthy winner and I feel a trip to Dorset to check out the facilities for myself may well be in order.

It was also great to see Merseyside Police win the award for Customer Service Team of the Year – Public Services and Education. I spoke to award winner Shelley Dooley who told me what it meant to win this prestigious award;

“We know we’re up against other police forces, but entering these awards, we’re also up against the Private Sector which you don’t consider. We need to shift the mindset. We’re not just dealing with victims, they’re customers too. They’ll compare the way we deal with them with their last transaction, whether that be with the bank or a travel company, for example. So, we need to benchmark against the Private Sector too in order to give them the service that they expect.”

As Citizens First Contact for the Merseyside Police, Shelley is obviously achieving just that, with first contact involving dealing with not only telephone calls, but issues raised at the front desk, on the website and via SMS. Having already won at the National Customer Service Awards last year, she wasn’t expecting to win this year as they were up against the Met and Surrey Police Force, but she was clearly delighted that her contributions had been rewarded for a second year running.

National Customer Service AwardsEvery awards ceremony should have a Lifetime Achievement Award and at the National Customer Service Awards this honour was bestowed upon Jill Jones, who manages the Customer Experience Team at Thames Water’s Swindon-based contact centre, for her outstanding contribution to Customer Service. Unlike the other awards, nominees for this category were submitted without candidates having prior knowledge so the announcement came as a total, yet well deserved surprise for Jill, who was presented with the award ‘in recognition of ‘a long and distinguished career in customer service dedicated to service excellence’. Putting Thames Water customers first has been Jill’s priority over the past 31 years and this has been no mean feat given the situations she has had to deal with. Not only have Thames Water carried out radical changes, they’ve also coped with the floods in difficult times. A delighted Jill said;

“I feel strongly that there is always more you can do and feel really lucky I, along with my colleagues, have always been encouraged at Thames Water to continue improving the service we offer our customers.”

Vodafone, one of the event sponsors, was nominated for 6 awards this year, including Customer Service Contact Centre of the Year (over 100 seats). Here’s what Vodafone’s Alison Davidson had to say about this year’s National Customer Service Awards:

“As somebody who puts a lot of time and effort into writing the award submission, I am always impressed when I see the night so well organised and how the participants are appreciated and thanked. It really is a celebration of hard work done throughout the year in making our submissions come alive. Although we did not win on the night – it is lovely to be recognised as a finalist and be able to celebrate that with other people from our company”.

After receiving an award for Customer Service Team of the Year – General Companies, Hannah Vingoe of Abel & Cole also picked up the trophy for the flagship award, The Huthwaite International Customer Service Team of the Year – a great end to the awards presentations, but by no means the end to the night. With all attendees in high spirits the celebration and dancing in the Ballroom went well on into the early hours of the morning.

As Vodafone’s Alison Davidson remarked; “The night was great – we here in Vodafone use it as a great opportunity to bring our front line people out to celebrate the success and thank them for all their hard work contributing to the story we will have told in our submission. For us it is not about a managers night out – it is about truly sharing our success at all levels”.

And as some companies struggle in the current economic climate, it is even more fitting that we should continue to celebrate the success stories. The organisers of the National Customer Service Awards were interviewing some of the events sponsors and nominees for a promotional DVD to act both as a memento of the evening and a marketing tool to encourage companies to enter next year’s awards. So, roll on the National Customers Service Awards 2009. Let’s hope these impressive companies and award winners manage to go the extra mile and surpass this year’s fantastic achievements.

About the Author

Anna Barker writes for Customer Service Manager Magazine (CSM) – the Magazine and community for Customer Service Professionals.

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