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What do Lebara Mobile, Virgin Media, Clarks Shoes, Scottish Water, Cornish Mutual, NHS Blood & Transplant, Sky, Avios Group and Barclays Bank have in common? If you have not already guessed, they were all named as finalists at the 2013 UK Customer Experience Awards. On the 17th October 2013, 73 judges, 135 finalists, and over 700 guests attended the fourth annual ceremony to celebrate the amazing achievements of the UKs burgeoning Customer Experience community.

Like any gathering of customer experience professionals, it is intriguing, comforting and exciting to see such a diverse range of businesses and people who are working so hard across every industry imaginable to put customers at the heart of UK business. From huge corporations, to little known housing associations, it is clear that the Customer Experience is critical to many organisations up and down the land.

In 2010, I was fortunate enough to be involved in successfully winning a UK Customer Experience Award whilst driving significant change at Shop Direct Group. Winning the award gained recognition and credibility which proved to be one of a number of key catalysts that propelled our customer experience transformation forward.  In 2011, one of my team won an individual award – the effect on her, the rest of the team and the increasing strategic focus on the customer has resulted in one of the most established customer experience programmes in the UK today.

Fast forward to 2013, and I find myself having the honour of being a judge. I intentionally use the word ‘honour’, because it genuinely is humbling to be afforded the opportunity to hear the stories of people I consider to be my peers. I judged one of two groups of finalists hoping to become ‘Customer Experience Professional of the Year’. Arriving at the Grand Connaught Rooms in Covent Garden, I was full of excitement and anticipation, hoping to be inspired and educated by six passionate customer experience professionals. I was not disappointed.

Although a small number of people walk away with a trophy, all six finalists I had the pleasure of listening to are worthy recipients of recognition and praise. From Paula (Liberata) – a driven customer service professional inspiring teams serving a tough public sector market – to Jonathan and Roxanne – the former very firmly putting customers first in Scotland for Barclays Bank; the latter a key contributor in the impressive customer focussed reputation that continues to grow at LV.

The title of this blog post has been shamelessly ‘borrowed’ from finalist number 4 – a chap called Simon Plant. Simon manages a number of bank branches for RBS. To say that customer experience exudes from his every pore would be an understatement. Simon’s enthusiasm to expect nothing but the best for his customers is infectious, and goes a long way to explaining why his customers are so happy with the service his teams deliver.

The family analogy continued with the remaining two finalists. Gareth Byrne from Pearson Edexcel demonstrated how it is possible to change the mind-set of a business.  Allowing his organisation to understand that teachers are customers, and establishing a community for everyone to learn from each other was inspiring. Fiona Templeton from Scottish Water was represented by three members of her team. Describing a story that started 11 years ago, it was difficult not to get goose bumps listening to how a publicly owned monopoly has been transformed into one of the most customer focussed businesses in the UK, let alone north of the border.

Fiona Templeton and members of her team at Scottish Water

Fiona Templeton and members of her team at Scottish Water

The lavish, glitzy awards ceremony that followed the judging was the well-deserved reward for judges, finalists and guests. Reward for playing a part in establishing a more customer focussed society. The sheer volume of professionals involved this year is a clear indication of the growing wave of momentum behind ‘the customer’ in and across most industries. Congratulations to all finalists, all winners, and the Awards International team for pulling off a logistical miracle. The real winner will ultimately be all of us – as customers of this growing number of customer focussed organisations.

I would like to dedicate this article my friend John Barrett.  John epitomised what it means to be a business improvement and customer experience professional. Only able to do what was right, his ability to expertly lead change left him with many admirers. I can only aspire to attain his levels of expertise, humility and commitment. You were a credit to your profession John – we will miss you. Rest in peace.

This post was originally produced for Customer Experience Magazine – http://www.customerexperiencemagazine.co.uk/