Millions of space enthusiasts have been tracking the progress of the robotic comet probe Philae, which apparently resembles a dishwasher, making an historic but awkward landing last Wednesday. Over the weekend it went into hibernation with a closing tweet: “I might take a nap …”

Enthusiasts of the project have been ecstatic as they forecast the advent of new scientific knowledge about the origins of Earth itself.  Regardless of the outcome delivered, there will always be questions about the costs of such missions and whether they can be justified in the current financial climate.

The director of human spaceflight and operations at ESA acknowledged how the top line figure of 1.4bn euros appeared, but went on to explain "If you divide it by the 20 years that the development and the mission has cost, it's cents per European citizen per year that was contributing to this new knowledge."

In terms of input measures, Philae travelled 6.4 billion km (four billion miles) to reach the comet, a journey time of 10 years and 25 years of dedicated planning. Measuring specific outputs will be much more complex, requiring faith, and to some extent hope for tangible results.

Does this sound familiar? 

Similar scenarios are played out in boards across planet earth every day; Can the ROI of investment in customer service be realised quickly enough to justify increased spend, against a backdrop of ongoing austerity? 

As consumers it may seem logical to us, that large organisations with millions of customers will invest a reasonable £per capita to make sure we get the best experience.  But logic alone is not enough to convince decision makers of the merits of investment; almost 72% of organisations surveyed in a recent CCA survey reported that inefficient legacy systems were a barrier to effective customer service. Because of the pace, scale and complexity of customer operations, any adjustment can have a dramatic effect, like a tiller on a large ship.

A single view of customer has become the holy grail for marketing and customer service professionals over the last decade, and many business cases are predicated on the benefits of investing in the necessary tools.

Since December 2010, maintaining a single customer view has become mandatory for UK banks and other deposit takers due to new rules introduced by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme.  Whilst benefits are self evident across all sectors, the difficulties experienced by most organisations in achieving traction with single customer view have been significant.

A significant challenge is the fragmentation of consumer behaviour and preferences, presenting ongoing challenges for service provision.

CCA Research Compendium 2014 to be launched next week (register for a link to the report) lists this as one of the top 10 significant issues uncovered throughout 2013/14. 

A stark reminder of a shift in consumer preference, is disruption in the retail industry, where we seem to have fallen out of love with large weekly shopping habits; leaving some supermarket plans for new stores in tatters.  In contrast, increased profits at both Ryanair and this week at EasyJet show how sensing and responding to changing consumer needs pays dividends.

Just as shoppers seem to prefer little and often, perhaps our thinking about service needs to be realigned to ensure that each component is improved locally, rather than viewing customer operations as a single ’juggernaut’ operation.

Ben Page CEO of Ipsos MORI and one of CCA Special Advisors advocates less ‘one size fits all’ and use of more controlled incubator teams, trying out different approaches to get the optimum results for both customer and organisation. This inevitably calls for a rethink about how those responsible for engaging with customers,  regardless of channel choice or location become educated about the wider business, and are confident to represent the brand with pride.

We know from endless studies that the same consumers who regularly express a preference for efficient self service also want speedy and effective human intervention as and when THEY require. It seems that organisations need to become as channel agnostic as customers.  Building a profile of consumer preferences by capturing critical information at every touch point has to be the way forward if organisations are to survive a new era of declining loyalty and increased choice.    

Fortunately, in our world we don’t have to argue for an investment at the scale of Philae or travel 64 billion km to find solutions to problems. All around us are some impressive examples of measurable improvements that customers appreciate and help to keep staff satisfied. For those of us attending CCA Convention next week we can learn about these first hand, with our feet firmly on the ground! 

Looking forward to seeing you there!