Jo Causon, CEO of the Institute of Customer Service, explores the challenges facing hospitality in recruiting bright young talent to service roles in the UK
The number of people working in customer service has tripled in the past 10 years, yet recent research by the Work Foundation suggests that more than 450,000 Neets - young people not in education, employment or training - lack the "soft skills" needed for these types of roles.
As the UK steps on to the global stage this summer, the hospitality sector will be on the frontline of service. The crème de la crème of customer-facing staff will be wheeled out to greet the world for the Olympics, but what of the following legacy?
The hospitality industry consistently ranks highly in our annual UK Customer Satisfaction Index (UKCSI), which gauges the quality of customer service in the UK by surveying about 26,000 consumers. In both 2011 and 2012, tourism scored about 80 out of a maximum of 100 while the leisure industry, incorporating restaurants, achieved about 79.
In order for the UK to maintain a reputation in this area and to attract as many visitors and guests as possible in the future, the hospitality sector will need to recruit the best young talent - now. The problem is that Britain often views customer service as a short-term option for young people on their way to a "real" occupation and there is a need for customer service to be seen as a true profession.
Companies should ensure that training and opportunities are readily available for young people looking to get their foot in the door of the hospitality industry.
To make sure that the best potential candidates consider service as more than a mere stopgap, companies need to clearly illustrate how a career path could progress through to supervisory roles and beyond. Offering long-term career development programmes will help to ensure that staff stay motivated and continually deliver the high level of service that customers expect.
We all know from our own experiences that we return to the hotels, restaurants and bars that offer the best service and consistency along the entire journey, from booking to paying. And indeed, this is supported by research from this institute. Yet many hospitality businesses are still failing to see the true value and potential of their staff.
Service roles must be given the prominence and investment they deserve in order for the hospitality sector to reap the benefits of an engaged and talented workforce.