A flurry of headlines this week underlined the extent to which we are dealing with an increasingly fragmented, and in some ways even polarised, customer base. The Sunday Times Rich List revealed that there are now more than 100 billionaires in the UK while at the other end of the spectrum Money Advice Service said that one in 11 people have less than £10 a month left each month after paying essential bills.

Prosperity is only one dividing factor: there are many others, including age (our rapidly ageing population presents challenges in terms of the health, mobility, sight and hearing of older customers); and also language (we are becoming an increasing ethnically diverse country with many citizens whose first language is not English).

Add in the fact that around one in four of us is expected to develop mental health problems at some point in our lives, putting a greater onus on organisations to develop skills in dealing with vulnerable customers, and you may begin to feel daunted by the challenge of meeting such diverse needs.

There is no escaping the fact that we are living in a more complex service environment and different customer groups will require (and in some cases will demand) specific levels and types of service.

Studies suggest that some customers may be prepared to pay a premium for more personalised service, while others (accustomed to the kind of personal service provided by Apple virtual assistant Siri) simply expect it as a matter of course.

IBM interviewed 1,000 customers and found that 90% of them were willing to spend up to 20 minutes uploading personal preferences in a mobile app so that a company could personalise their service experience. However, only 32% of companies were actually able to do this, demonstrating the extent to which customers’ expectations are running ahead of reality. Read more

Intelligent technology applications can undoubtedly help to bridge that gap and enable companies to meet customers’ expectations but IT is not a panacea in and of itself. We also need to look at the structure and composition of our workforce and the role it plays in adding another dimension to our service proposition.

Organisations should ask serious questions about whether they have the kind of agile and flexible service model and the multi-skilled workforce needed to respond to increasingly complex challenges.

Our latest research project, in association with Arise will delve deeply into the concept of the agile workforce.

We are excited about this project because it addresses fundamental issues that are often cited as stumbling blocks to providing a better service and we look forward to sharing the results with you soon.