Some say you have to look back to look forward and as this year marks the 20th anniversary of CCA Convention, I’ve been taking a look back at 20 years of critical customer service topics we’ve addressed.

Several factors emerge as perennial concerns for customer-facing organisations and ones that distinguish top performers from under-performers: these include getting closer to customers and making superior service a distinguishing feature of your overall proposition.

Across the CCA network, I think it’s fair to say that collectively we have become pretty good at identifying and analysing these issues over the years. The harder part is using that insight to drive transformational change.

A key statistic from our research with Verint serves as a continual reminder that the need for transformational change remains great: 44% of customers believe that most organisations do not take notice of or really care about what customers think.

It was a sobering statistic when first published and remains so. Despite all our considerable efforts, this statistic stands as a public indictment of the customer service industry at large (whether or not it is unfair or undeserved in many respects).

We are determined to be a catalyst to change not just the public’s perceptions of customer service but also their experience. You might wonder whether, after grappling with these issues for 20 years, we can realistically expect a major leap forward any time soon? This week our Special Advisers debated this fundamental question. The collective wisdom of Ben Page of Ipsos MORI, Dr Carsten Sorensen of London School of Economics, Philip Vanhoutte of Plantronics, Melanie Howard of the Future Foundation and consumer specialist Liz Barclay produced diverse perspectives.

We agreed that serving customers has become more complex as channels have proliferated and that in a 24/7 mobile connected environment, it is worryingly easy to get something wrong owing to the complex interplay of elements in today’s service chain.

We acknowledged that many breakthroughs stem from a ‘tipping point’ at which change is forced by an inability to sustain the status quo. Views are pretty much unanimous that the current service model is broken, but opinions differ on whether it will limp on a little longer or break down irretreviably, forcing more radical change faster.

Malcolm Gladwell, author of ‘The Tipping Point’  argues that many problems behave like viruses and can be subject to sudden dramatic changes in direction.  He believes that a cascade of change ‘can result from the right intervention at the right time'.

The attitude of an organisation and individuals within it can dictate the pace of change, either accelerating it or stifling it. Melanie Howard outlined three groups with differing attitudes:

Transformers - who seek change
Protectors - who seek to maintain the status quo
Vanguard - people who lead and enact change

We need to empower people with an enlightened attitude to change on everything from working methods to working environments and how we treat our people if we are to forge a new model centred on a relationship of trust with both employees and customers.

Philip Vanhoutte, co-author of a new book ‘Smarter Working Manifesto’ is a flag-bearer for enlightened change. He advocates productive dispersed working and harnessing technology to deliver better and seamless collaboration for the benefit of both workers and customers.

In a frenetic world, we are sometimes busy doing the wrong things (from a customer perspective). In an attempt to ‘listen’ more we can end up dementing customers with a surfeit of surveys rather than using normal interactions, from sales calls to complaints to drill down into their concerns and using analytics to make sense of the bigger picture.

As the economy recovers, more new entrant businesses will spring up which have no ‘baggage’ about customer service, either philosophically or in terms of legacy systems. They intrinsically understand the power of superior service as a point of differentiation.

They also know how to strike a delicate balance between helpfulness and intrusion when it comes to making use of customers’ personal data in order to provide a more personal service. We spoke of ‘concierge-style services’ in our future scenarios, we are glimpsing the beginnings of this now and it will have far-reaching effects on the balance of power between organisations and their customers.

Whether you believe we have already reached a tipping point or are fast-approaching it, the work of our Special Advisers will provide signposts for the next stage of the journey.