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Is Consultation really an extreme sport? Otherwise called customer service?

In my years working for tCI I’ve often said that I must be part of a ‘hard to reach minority group’ as I’m very rarely consulted about ANYTHING! I have noticed recently, however, that I am starting to see this changing….

The ‘minority group’ I belong to is, I’d suggest, white, home-owning, comfortably off, middle class, middle-aged, liking reading, sport and travel. Normally I’d think I’d be pretty much consulted on loads of things – local services, sports facilities, roads, airports, taxes, housing, consumer policies and more…..but over the past few years I have had only maybe 3 or 4 occasions where this has happened!

My most recent examples ( inside last 12 months ) were Gatwick Airport asking me about my views on the new runway and landing path plans as we’re on the perimeter of their approach zones, and the Westerham Parish Council asking for view on a proposed new parcel distribution centre a mile away.

Even though consultation has been operating ( mostly in the public sector as a rule of thumb ) for 15 or so years now, I’ve always felt it has been a bit of an extreme and fringe sport in terms of both participation and interest. Participants both on the consultor and consultee side often are passionate zealots who really believe in community participation in guiding important decisions. It’s never been a mainstream sport for all!

But that’s changing I think. With the rise in ‘community ratings’ through sites such as Amazon, TripAdvisor and more, getting feedback and a star rating from your customer, client, patient or stakeholder has never been more popular or professional, and can make or break the success of products, services and whole organisations. You and I would never dream of booking a hotel or buying a washing machine now without ‘consulting the community’ of previous customers.

So is what we’re seeing a merging together of customer service/feedback and consultation as a mainstream area of activity? I believe it is – I’m currently chairing the BSI/ISO standards development of service standards and working on one for Online Consumer Reviews, where publication, promotion, verification, moderation are words that pop up frequently. Pretty common in Consultation too I think!

My conclusion is that we’re going to see a lot more of merging terms and activity – consultation IS organisations consulting their clients, customers, residents, stakeholders, whatever we call them, and making sure that the product or service ( of whatever sort ) that they provide is as good as it can be, in the right place, and suited to the majority as far as possible. That’s part of customer service and service quality improvement too……….

Oh, and I now feel part of the mainstream – people seem to want my views!


About the Author

Howard is a tCI Director and has a history of building communities in customer service and is an expert in IT support markets,

Read more about Howard

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