Instead of writing an enormous review of the year, which would be a mammoth post and be frankly quite boring and take too long to read, I am going to write a series of reviews of 2014 tackling certain subjects. I start this mini series with an issue which I am sure has affected many of us in this industry: poor customer service.

Bad customer service

There is no doubt that 2014 has seen a noticeable rise in business for many of us this year. I don’t think we’re quite back to booming, but I’m hoping for steady growth over the next few years which should bring us all a healthy state of business. However, the pace of the recovery this year seemed to catch many of us out. In 2013, the predictions for growth this year were in the very low percentages. But the British public fueled that recovery stronger than we all thought, and we were caught on the hop.

The problem was, during the recession years, many of us downsized our businesses in order to cope and survive, that meant cutting staff and cutting resources. That was a popular strategy and it worked for many. But the turnaround from recession to recovery was far quicker than many of us expected, and even caught out the organisations that measure economic output!

The symptom of the this success was massive strain on the industry, especially at fabricator level. Never have I seen so many tweets from so many companies about the same such complaint – customer service, or rather lack of good customer service.

A problem caused by positivity

It’s an odd problem to have. Most expect strong growth and sales to be an ideal situation with very little to worry about. When sales are good, most expect a ship to be steady. But right at the start of the year I was talking about the potential for a lack of adequate staffing levels if the economy did turn around. I was worried that because companies had got smaller in size, some by a large margin, many would struggle to cope should things turn around quickly, which they did.

From my own personal experience, I know that a few of the suppliers we deal with have spent much of this year operating at full, if not beyond capacity for much of this year. This adds great strain to any business, and in turn stress to their own customers.

This cronic skills gap has manifested itself in failed returned calls, long on hold times, late deliveries or completely missed deliveries, poor quality control and poor after sales service. Throughout this year I have spoken with many who have listed those problems, and indeed it was a tweet from someone in our industry that said 2014 would be remembered as the year of poor service.

But we have to remember that this is a condition brought on by prosperity, rather than bad practice. It’s not as if our industry has been in the doldrums and had little to do but twiddle it’s thumbs. We have been at full throttle since pretty much the start of the year. What hasn’t helped matters is that the wider construction sector is in the throes of a crippling skills shortage which has caused anomalies such a brickies to earn over £1000 per week! With fenestration making up part of the wider construction sector, it’s no wonder we have struggled so much this year.

Customer Service In 2015

Many of us expect another strong year in 2015, and I’m sure many of us will be wanting to better our figures a year on. However, as an industry we simply cannot have another year in terms of customer service like we have had this year. I sometimes wonder how much more we could have done this year if the skills shortage and poor customer service wasn’t an issue. But we can’t focus on the “what ifs”. We have to look forward to the New Year. We have to use this quieter time of year to assess what we all need to improve on and ensure that when 2015 does come around, we are doing as much as we can for our customers at all levels in the industry.

To do this, we’re going to have to invest in staff. It’s easier said than done, and that does require a degree of training for those who are new to the industry. But if we’re to cope better next year with increased business and sales, then we absolutely have to start drastically increasing staffing levels to reduce the burden on what is surely a very tired and worn out workforce this year.

 Next review: a tentative return to confidence