Customer service: openness, trust and confidence

Gill Bull, former Director of Freedom of Information Complaints and Compliance at the Information Commissioner, details the importance of openness, trust and confidence in delivering great customer service.

In these unprecedented times, while there may well be delays in handling individual freedom of information requests, even more focus may fall on overall approaches to openness, transparency and trust.

An impressive and wide-ranging international study about trust was published by IPSOS MORI last autumn. On reading it, I was reminded of the approach that professor Onora O’Neill, former president of the British Academy, had taken on the subject.

In her TED talk in 2013 she made clear that many of our current assumptions about trust had become clichés. She argued that what mattered more than trust were ideas about ‘trustworthiness’ and the important judgements we need to make to establish if someone, or indeed an organisation, is worthy of our trust. Professor O’Neill identified three key questions to help us, namely: is the organisation competent, honest and reliable? A fuller exploration of these ideas was given in her earlier 2002 Reith Lectures.

A fascinating article in IPSOS MORI’s study ‘Trust: the Truth?’ presents the results of a global survey about the current drivers of trustworthiness across a range of brands, public services and government (see box: Building trust).

Building trust

IPSOS MORI identified a wide range of factors that are giving rise to trustworthiness, including:

1. Is the organisation good at what it does?

2. Is it reliable/keeps its promises?

3. Is it well led?

4. Does it behave responsibly?

5. Is it open and transparent about what it does?

6. Does it do what it does with the best of intentions?

7. Does it share your values?

8. Would it try to take advantage of you if it could?

Open for business

A notable aspect of the survey results relates to the impact of openness and transparency in building trustworthiness and, by implication, great customer service.

The Freedom of Information Act 2000 (and the lesser known Environmental Information Regulations 2004) creates a legal framework based on the ‘request and provide’ system. But what is equally important are the ways in which organisations can step back and consider a strategic approach to more proactive openness and transparency to inform every aspect of how they work. How often, for example, are issues of openness and transparency considered at each of stage of decision-making in relation to a customer journey – from planning services to delivery and reviewing their impact?

We are all familiar with a wide range of impact assessments, ranging from a consideration of financial issues to sustainability considerations. Yet perhaps a new kind of openness and transparency impact assessment could help drive improvements to customer service to build up levels of trustworthiness.

The importance of the ‘three Rs’

In his recently published book, The Science of Service, Mark Colgate, professor of service excellence at the University of Victoria, British Columbia, identifies three key dimensions of customer service quality – what he calls ‘responsiveness’, ‘relationships’ and ‘reliability’. From his research he has found that reliability – what he calls “the ability to perform the promised service dependably and accurately” is the most important of the three.

So, the strong implication here is that openness and transparency are, by themselves, not enough. Unless they are hardwired into ideas of reliability and the absolute essence of your services, you are not going to provide great service in your customer’s eyes.


To discuss, contact Radojka Miljevic on:

This article was also featured in CT Brief Issue 48 – Customer edition

Disclaimer: We welcome guest blogs and articles for our website and CT Brief. The views, opinions and positions expressed in such blogs and articles represent those of the authors and do not represent those of Campbell Tickell
Campbell Tickell is an established multi-disciplinary management and recruitment consultancy, operating across the UK and Ireland, focusing on the housing, social care, local government, sport, leisure, charity and voluntary sectors.

We are a values-based business and firmly place the positioning of our support and challenge on helping organisations to attain change that is well thought through, planned and sustainable. At CT, we want to help organisations create the landscape within which we ourselves would like to exist: fair, inclusive, diverse, engaged and transparent. We build from our values in how we approach all our work as a practice.

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