The banking sector has struggled to restore public trust in the wake of financial scandals but encouraging signs are emerging of radical changes in corporate culture at the highest level, designed to rebuild trust at the front line in customer service delivery.

I had an opportunity this week to get an insight into what is happening at Barclays under the aegis of new CEO Antony Jenkins who is steering a major cultural shift throughout the organisation. Jenkins has put five values at the heart of a plan to rebuild the bank’s reputation: respect, integrity, service, excellence and stewardship.

At the heart of the change programme is a relentless focus on good service from staff who are less motivated by making profits (though clearly this is still important) and more encouraged to treat customers with respect.

One of the ways Barclays intends to change the culture is to alter the way bonuses are handed out in future. It is introducing a ‘balanced score card’ against the CEO’s five values and from what I gather, the impact is already being felt.

A more enlightened approach to recognition and reward goes hand-in-hand with a radical re-examination of how staff are treated, whether they feel engaged, trusted, and supported to do their best for customers. As the economy picks up, the issue of staff churn (which has abated during the economic downturn) will once more be on the radar, and it will become increasingly important to ensure your best performers feel valued.

With the help of good coaching and management, customer service staff at Barclays are moving beyond a transactional view of their job and focusing on the consequences of what they do and say (and don’t do or don’t say) and how it will make their customers feel not just about a particular agent but about the entire organisation and the brand.

In terms of the way performance is measured and agents are motivated and rewarded, this is surely a watershed moment. A shift away from purely technical numerical yardsticks to judge agent performance has long been mooted by our own Industry Council and Customer Experience Council as desirable aim but achieving it is far from easy and a pre-requisite is a willingness to innovate.

It also requires emphasising every individual’s capacity to make a difference to customers’ experiences and by extension to brand reputation. Clearly, a need for regulatory compliance (particularly in the financial services sector but not confined to that sector) dictates that some aspects of an interaction with customers and certain transactions must be carried out in a prescribed way, but that still leaves room for a differentiated and authentic human interaction.

After all, how do you ‘live’ brand values if you are restricted to a rigid script or set of behaviours? And can you really expect a customer to trust someone who sounds as though they are on auto-pilot? Authenticity is vital to foster trust and meaningful engagement.

The contact centre mentality of old means that there is a strong legacy of rigidity in the way agents are expected to do their jobs and of command-and-control systems to ensure that this happens. This is increasingly jarring modus operandi in today’s altered customer service landscape in which an empathetic service experience is expected whenever there is a need for human interaction.

A focus on the quality of interactions must be accompanied by a fresh look at the systems and IT environment in which agents operate to be sure that outmoded kit or systems which cannot ‘speak’ to each other do not stymie the birth of a brave new service culture.

It’s all very well taking a bold decision to scrap simplistic factors such as AHT as measures of success but as a business you will be no further forward if this results in ‘pass-the-parcel’ between agents because of system failings of inability to share knowledge easily. Trying customer patience in such a way will render them oblivious to your new value system.

It is precisely this need for ‘joined-up-thinking’ that runs as a leitmotif through every research paper we are currently compiling in the run-up to the formal launch of CCA’s new Research Institute.

Customer contact leaders have debated long and hard on how to inculcate a truly enterprise-wide customer-centric culture. It may have taken a crisis or a scandal to speed things up, but I dare to hope that this could herald a new era of maturity and trust.