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Customer Service – Make Best Practice the Norm

Chris Tyrrell CSE Assessor (Pic: Emily Hughes)

Chris Tyrrell
CSE Assessor
(Pic: Emily Hughes)

All of this week, we’ve been publishing the Top Tips to achieving Customer Service Excellence supplied by the eponymous organisation.

When CSE was founded 5 years ago, its target was to work with the public sector to change their approach to customer service. However, they’ve taken their experience and expertise and applied it to the private sector as well, all to help improve customer service within the UK business scene.

The organisation has a series of standard tests. These apply to areas of importance outlined by customers themselves. They include delivery, timeliness, information, professionalism and staff attitude.

They want the standard to become the recognised symbol of excellence, both by businesses themselves and more importantly by the customer. So, with considerable thanks to assessor Chris Tyrrell, here are the final ten top tips on to guarantee excellent customer satisfaction.

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General Good Practice

1 – Immediately identify any other unspoken assistance needs and arrange for them to be provided

2 – It’s good practice in reception areas to separate out different customer streams

3 – Where the nature of the service is that there are queues (e.g. post offices or call centres), it is good practice to let waiting customers know what the current response waiting time is

4 – If you’ve arranged to meet a customer at their home, ring (if appropriate) to confirm, or if you’re going to be delayed, and always show your identification

5 – Good practice is to ask a customer who uses a wheel chair, a visually impaired customer, and a hearing-impaired customer to experience, and report on the customer journey through your publically accessible areas

6 – Manage customer expectations – keep them informed about the progress of their enquiry, request for service, or complaint

7 – Be careful if you operate a queuing system that issues tickets to those who arrive, in order, and then call them by their appointment time – which will upset those with earlier ticket numbers!

Benchmarking – Don’t rely on your own feedback and management information

8 – Benchmark your core business performance against sector comparators

9 – Benchmark the timeliness and quality of response to customer contact – but comparators need not necessarily be in the same sector

10 – If you have Service Standards or a Customer Charter or Pledge always review on an annual basis that you actually delivered them and publicise the results to your customers. This will show your promises are genuine and deliverable and will stop them becoming cosmetic statements. As a result you will deliver excellence!

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Customer Service Excellence is a quality standard set up and trade marked by the Cabinet Office and is now operated under license by G4S Assessment Services, Centre for Assessment, emqc, and SGS UK. In order for your business to be recognised as achieving Customer Service Excellence, you must be successfully assessed against the Five Criteria of the Standard by one of the licensed certification bodies. For more information please visit http://www.customerserviceexcellence.uk.com

Customer Service Excellence (CSE) is an organisation dedicated to improving the quality of customer service. Initially launched 5 years ago to focus on public sector organisations, it’s now changed its remit to help the private sector as well, by taking their experience and expertise to help improve customer service within the UK business scene.

Yesterday, we published their top ten tips for customer service and promised more. With the help of assessor, Chris Tyrrell, we can now offer the next instalment of advice to deliver that customer service excellent.

Adopting good practice as standard

1 – It’s good practice to empower frontline staff to deal with customer service issues when they arise, if they can – but, if they do, it’s important to capture those expressions of dissatisfaction, or ‘informal complaints’ in order spot any emerging issues that could lead to formal complaints

2 – It’s not good practice for an organisation to set a cap on the maximum number of complaints that should be received – it sends the wrong message to staff, who may feel they’re encouraged to ignore or not designate dissatisfaction as a complaint

3 – Another good practice is to encourage customers to submit complaints though all the access channels available, while offering the support of frontline staff to assist them

4 – A very good practice is to scan incoming emails for key words expressing some form of dissatisfaction, and then fast-tracking those emails

5 – Do not say – “this is the first time anyone has mentioned this” – wrong message! It can be seen as casting doubt on the validity of the feedback

6 – Ensure, if you are providing a service with a commercial partner, that they have a compatible approach to complaints handling – and that you are notified of all complaints and their outcome

Shift to online service provision, support, information and payment

7 – Invite real customers in to check out the relevance and accessibility of the on-line offering. As they say, there’s no such thing as a free lunch!

8 – Assuming you’ve done your customer segmentation, then make sure what the preferred access channel of each segment is – and if it includes customers who can’t, or prefer not to, use online services, then make sure there’s a viable alternative for them

9 – Use your website to demonstrate your transparency as an organisation by publishing your:

    a. Core business standards and your performance against them
    b. Your standards for the timeliness and quality of response to customer contact, and your performance against them
    c. An explanation of any dips in performance, together with any remedial or preventive action you are taking
    d. Action you are taking in response to customer satisfaction surveys, comment cards, and complaints

10 – A good practice is to pro-actively search incoming emails for words expressing urgency

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Customer Service Excellence is a quality standard set up and trade marked by the Cabinet Office and is now operated under license by G4S Assessment Services, Centre for Assessment, emqc, and SGS UK. In order for your business to be recognised as achieving Customer Service Excellence, you must be successfully assessed against the Five Criteria of the Standard by one of the licensed certification bodies. For more information please visit http://www.customerserviceexcellence.uk.com

By Bob Mandy
Senior Project Manager at Customer Service Excellence

When considering customer service, you immediately think ‘make/keep the customers happy’ but many do not realise that great customer service isn’t just the product of sales assistants being helpful or having brilliant telephone etiquette. There is in fact a lot more behind it.

Perhaps something like this  should be shown in every premises

Perhaps something like this
should be shown in every premises

Customer service needs to be considered a ‘culture’, meaning that every individual inside the business or every individual that the business deals with is treated with the same excellent service and respect. The culture of a business is the way it, and its employees behave. Customer service must come from the top & work throughout the company. It needs to be tackled by company directors in a ‘practice what you preach’ fashion; otherwise unhappy employees will not deliver excellent customer service. Once a company has decided on a level of customer service that they wish to enforce and follow, this information should be made readily available for all employees of all levels throughout the organisation.

It is also important for top-level management to make it very clear to employees, how they wish for them to behave towards not only customers but also their co-workers. This will help create the appropriate dynamic within the organisation.

Thinking of ideas to improve customer service from within an organisation is a great way to boost your employees’ morale and push them to advance their skills. Reward incentives are a great idea for maintaining employee spirits and creating a sense of working towards something. These do not always have to be cash incentives, but gift ideas, extra time off or even an article commending them on their achievements are brilliant ways of saying, ‘’well done & thank you’’.

Furthermore, regular employee reviews can be effective for management to get to know their employees a little better, and to make sure they understand the areas they can improve on & managers can understand further where employees struggle or answer any queries they have surrounding their job role. Therefore if it’s customer service managers wish to push, review meetings are a great time to bring up issues and help employees recognise what they can do to build on their existing skills.

Excellence in customer service - the minimum standard?

Excellence in customer service – the minimum standard?

Everyone from the most senior people within an organisation to the most junior, must believe they work for the customer; otherwise the philosophy will not be consistent throughout the business. Consistency is key to customer service as customers feel safe, when they receive the same service every time and can rely on an organisation to deliver every time.

For good service to be given, all employees need to WANT to give good service. Willingness and making sure to push all excuses aside will help your organisation to strive. Why would you not want to give customer service everything you have got? Especially when you rely on customers for your business to stay afloat.

Having the right employees is the first start to creating a really strong customer service push. Without employees with brilliant communication skills, dedication to the organisation & fantastic personalities, then your organisation will struggle to reach customer service excellence.

The best customer service comes from the businesses or organisations that really understand their target market. You have to be able to relate to really appreciate the customer and therefore, give the best service possible. Without a good understanding of what the customer wants and the sort of issues they may face with your organisation, you will not give the customer service they deserve.

Customer Service Excellence Logo

Customer Service Excellence Logo

Employees must be given the freedom to experiment with customer service, and creatively think of new ways to enhance the customer service the business is delivering. Obviously the outcome must always be in favour of the customer and not harm the business in anyway. By experimenting and allowing employees freedom to try new ideas, it will lead to interesting success and failure examples to learn from as a business. Learning through experience needs to be encouraged from the top down, and employees need to be able to make mistakes and learn from them, otherwise progression will never be made.

No matter what level of the business an employee works within, from junior administrators to directors of a company, they should all have some experience with dealing with customer feedback and the impacts of good/bad customer service. Hearing feedback whether positive or negative will help employees grow and strengthen their abilities. Therefore it is essential for all levels of the business to be in touch with their customers, to know what their customers are thinking currently about their product or service. This will help organisations to all be in tune with the current opinions of customers.

An important aspect of customer service, is remembering that the customer is always right and there is always a way of satisfying or placating the customer. Employees of all levels need to be given the responsibility and authority to confidently be able to help customers, even if it does mean sometimes giving in to their demands. There should never be a situation where a business just says ‘sorry there is nothing we can do for you’. There is always a way of compromising and directors and management level staff of organisations should instil this confidence in their employees, so that they can feel free to handle situations in the best way possible to please customers, however obviously within reason.

Customer service is a culture and it should be a top priority of an organisation to make sure all employees understand this. It will have a positive impact on any company to make sure that customer service is driven from the top downwards and that there is incentives and motivation for all employees to succeed and improve at it.

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Customer Service Excellence is a scheme set up and trade marked by the Cabinet Office and is now operated under license by G4S Assessment Services, Centre for Assessment, emqc, and SGS UK. For more information on how to apply, please visit http://www.customerserviceexcellence.uk.com

c_boardsRegardless of your politics, the SNP’s stunning election victory may have one very beneficial side-effect: dragging Scotland out of the digital dark ages.

Quite how dark these are was demonstrated by Newsnight Scotland last week. Katie Grant and former Labour hackette Lorraine Davidson joined berouged Andrew Neil wannabe Gordon Brewer in declaring that new media had no impact on the Scottish general election campaign. The “new media” voice was provided by Gerry Hassan, who is a sound cove but a self-confessed late adopter. Quite why Grant and Davidson were inflicted on us, I have no idea. Perhaps they saw an interweb once.

At no point did Newsnicht define what they meant by “new media”: the web, social networks, mobile, email, Usenet or World of Warcraft? And at no point did they point out that far more Scots use Facebook, Twitter et al than watch their wee segment.

Where were the new media experts? Or the people who make a living from this stuff? This is not just me bleating because I didn’t get my fuzzy fizog on the goggle box: there are some very exciting projects in Scotland that could have corrected the programme’s erroneous conceit. How about speaking to someone from STV, who appear to be building a new media deathstar? Or Mashable? Or The Daily Mash? Or The Daily Dust? Or Newsnet Scotland? Or “Scotland’s digital guy” Craig McGill? Or social marketing genius Andrew Burnett? Or one of the many bloggers who add so much to the online debate?

There’s no excuse for this at the well-funded BBC, which has new media talent coming out of its ears. Except for viewers in Scotland, apparently.

We’re all used to the usual lazy, lazy, lazy Newsnicht approach of getting their old pals to jaw on and on, but this time their complacency was cruelly exposed. Because while Brewer and pals were parroting the mainstream media line that this web stuff is just a flash in the pan for geeks and perverts, the SNP were crafting a stunning, historic, landslide victory using … drum roll … new media.

The übersmart Kirk Torrance and digital guru Ewan McIntosh were using social media as it should be used – as a search engine for finding people’s sympathies. The party’s new media team used social networks to identify targets for their offline activity, marketing which made use of an iPhone app to record real-time intel from canvassers. Ewan has documented it all on his websbite and it is a thing of awe-inspiring beauty.

It’s not just BBC that causes despair, though. Before starting the Caley Merc, I worked as a consultant for the Scottish public sector.

Let me tell you, the will to live is a fragile thing indeed.

While working on a ludicrously ill-conceived project that cost a fortune but never came to fruition, I suggested publicising a website by creating a page for it on Wikipedia. This was shot down as “too risky”. It’s your money they’re spending…

I knew I had to get out when I was pitching to a marketing bod billed as an expert on new media. I suggested that the campaign website they wanted might benefit from the use of “tags” to aid navigation. They thought that was a great idea because they’d never heard of tags. This was in 2009. Tags have been commonplace since 2003. It’s your money they’re spending…

And it’s your money they’re wasting on lame website after lame website packed with dull content of interest only to the dreaded “stakeholders”. What’s needed is an immediate “vale for money” audit of all Scottish public sector digital activity to see what has been of use to real people.

In short, with the exception of a few NHS services, there’s only one website needed for the public sector: scotland.gov.uk, which has long been a centre of digital excellence. It’s the place the user expects to find this information, why waste money on building other sites? It’s the content and social connections that matter.

And don’t get me started on the Scottish Government’s digital advertising. We carry SG ads, but only bargain-bucket ones provided by an agency in, you guessed, London. Where’s the public sector support for start-up publications? Why don’t they advertise with Scottish new media outside the cosy arrangements with mainstream media? There’s a lot of hot air from self-appointed new media experts in the public sector about supporting online innovation.

But they don’t put their money where their mouths are. Again, this isn’t special pleading for the Caley Merc. There’s a large, vibrant online content community in Scotland – and it gets very little support from anyone except its large number of readers.

In short, there’s a big job to do to change Scotland’s approach to digital, starting with the Scottish Government’s huge marketing and advertising budgets.

Thankfully, we have a governing party swept to power by new media and who have access to the brightest possible digital talent.

Politics aside, I look forward to a brighter digital day dawning on Scotland.

Want to discuss other issues? Join the debate on our new Scottish Voices forum

Edinburgh carBy Colin Borland, Federation of Small Businesses

Asides from adding a few zeroes to our gas bills and allowing every amateur economist with a dartboard to have a guess at what it was costing, this winter’s severe weather made us confront some of the accepted wisdom about e-commerce and its relationship with the rest of the economy.

It is, of course, true that many office-based workers can now easily work from home. And more of us can do a fair bit of business from wherever we are. But the near collapse of our transport system reminded us that the rise of e-commerce will only ever be a partner of real, tangible commerce, never its replacement.

Consider those who, prevented or deterred from getting into town for their Christmas shopping, elected to do it all online. A masterstroke – until it became clear the weather wasn’t going to relent and all of the problems which stopped consumers getting out and about made things too difficult for commercial couriers and the Royal Mail.

Some, no doubt fearful of explaining to a tearful child why Santa was stuck in the back of a van somewhere outside Bedford, asserted that these delivery companies should be compelled to make sure that all deliveries were made it in time for Christmas. But Transport Scotland and the police were advising people not travel for their own safety and, unless I missed it, this did not exclude hauliers and couriers.

No-one should be encouraging people to take unnecessary risks in the course of their work. But the question of how a private company could be compelled in this way – and the reports of some big couriers simply declaring Scotland a no-drop zone – does make us reflect on the importance of the Universal Service Obligation (USO) which is placed on Royal Mail.

While the backlog of letters and parcels at certain sorting offices has drawn comment, it’s worth remembering that Royal Mail cannot choose where to serve. Indeed, the Westminster Scottish Affairs Committee’s report into the potential Scottish impact of the Postal Services Bill finds that the USO, “is the cornerstone of mail and postal services in the UK” and is to be applauded for resisting any possible moves to diminish it.

Unless we can somehow magically digitise all of the goods and services that we consume, a good proportion of commerce will still rely on buyers and sellers being able to get goods to and from market. That’s less about next generation broadband and more about having a reliable, robust transport system – and a reliable, universal distribution service to run on it.

The Twitter logoThe growth of social-media has been astonishing. LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter have all burst on the scene in the past five years or so. But with the exception of LinkedIn, businesses seem to be sceptical about their usefulness. A series of reports however suggest that they’re wrong.

Take the UK’s first European Social Media and Email Marketing study which was published this week. It’s designed to show how consumers use social media and email. But it’s also producing the evidence about how marketers can effectively use these methods. The findings support the principle that email still forms the backbone of much digital dialogue with consumers.

The marketing company eCircle commissioned Mediacom Science to analyse responses from over 1,000 UK consumers. They wanted to find out how brands contacted their consumers. The results show that, while 73 per cent of respondents can be reached through social networks, 95 per cent check their emails at least once a day. But the research suggests that very few companies have worked out a strategy for linking the two together.

The chief executive of eCircle, Volker Wiewer, said: “The majority of studies on social media have only looked at what consumers use social networks for. In this research we took a different approach; investigating who is using different social networks and what motivates them to publish and share information.

“Rather than attempting to decide which is the best, most influential or effective marketing channel, marketers need to understand why people are behaving a certain way on social networks and email. This will then allow them to use the most appropriate channel for their campaigns.”

So why are consumers using social media to follow a particular company or brand?

The research shows that most do so to get discounts or to keep up to date with the latest information. Only a quarter said they were “fans” to show their attachment to the brand and share it with contacts.

People used Twitter to find out news and information, as it can be spread quickly. They also used Facebook to keep up to date and find out about special offers. But they still also use email for a number of online functions for which social networks seem inappropriate, such as private communication with the organisation and any online purchases.

This week also saw Twitter reaching an important milestone for business, thanks to a deal with Google. For the first time Google will allow adverts from another service to appear in its real time search results. The Edinburgh-based digital marketing company, QueryClick, produced a report to advise Scottish business to sit up and take notice of Twitter, despite its current niche status.

The company’s David Fothergill said: “When it comes to search and online advertising, Google is, by a very long way, the biggest name out there. For them to promote Twitter ads in their search results makes this worth taking note of. There are long-term implications which web savvy businesses can benefit from.”

Twitter’s current way paying for itself is by running ads known as “Promoted Tweets”. These are now being displayed in Google’s real time search results in America, with a similar service due to start in the UK early next year. And in Fothergill’s view, this means that “Twitter has taken an important step towards becoming a long-term financially viable business.”

Another report this month, this time from the Boston Consulting Group, showed Britain’s digital economy is worth more than £100 billion and growing fast, with a huge amount of that business starting at Google’s search box. That’s a trend noted by our business schools and academics are now looking at ways of helping businesses use social-media to exploit this more effectively.

But they’re finding it quite hard to keep up as the social-media sites change the way companies communicate. But they have to do so to help MBA students learn how to use the new technologies. Some business-schools have already started courses on the business uses of social media. Others have built the subject to their marketing and advertising classes.

The advantage Twitter can give is a form of market intelligence. For instance, people are already using it monitor what clients are interested in. But other social-media services work within companies. An example is the new service called “Yammer” which help people within organisations to communicate with each other.

But to paraphrase the warning that Bill McDowell of Microsoft made in this publication recently, social media can take poor communications decisions and both magnify and speed their impact. So business schools should be warning students of those risks. People may be using the internet for all sorts of purposes, but the basic rules of good business communications have not changed.

RoS 4 colour-130x130In the latest four week period available the Scottish average house price has increased by 2.1% to £167,694 and the volume of sales in Scotland has decreased by -8.6%.

The map below lets you find out what’s happening to house prices in your area.

You can get the 52 week version of this map at ros.gov.uk. You can also get more detailed statistical information as well as finding out what houses in your street are selling for with RoS’ free house price search facility.

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RoS 4 colour-130x130In the latest four week period available the Scottish average house price has increased by 3.6% to £163,081 and the volume of sales in Scotland has increased by 0.6%.The map below lets you find out what’s happening to house prices in your area.You can get the 52 week version of this map at ros.gov.uk. You can also get more detailed statistical information as well as finding out what houses in your street are selling for with RoS’ free house price search facility.

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RoS 4 colour-130x130In the latest four week period available the Scottish average house price has increased by 3.9% to £168,250 and the volume of sales in Scotland has decreased by -5.1%.

The map below lets you find out what’s happening to house prices in your area.

You can get the 52 week version of this map at ros.gov.uk. You can also get more detailed statistical information as well as finding out what houses in your street are selling for with RoS’ free house price search facility.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

RoS 4 colour-130x130In the latest four week period available the Scottish average house price has increased by 3.6% to £163,081 and the volume of sales in Scotland has increased by 0.6%.The map below lets you find out what’s happening to house prices in your area.You can get the 52 week version of this map at ros.gov.uk. You can also get more detailed statistical information as well as finding out what houses in your street are selling for with RoS’ free house price search facility.

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<em>Picture: Grinannan</em>

Picture: Grinannan

For advertising agencies these are difficult times as they’re faced with confusing messages about the future of the industry. On the one hand, one leading media buyer has predicted that revenues will soar in the coming year. On the other, agency bosses are waiting for the axe to fall on many public sector marketing budgets.

They are also working through a seismic shift in the way advertising works. In September last year, more money was spent in the UK buying online adverts than on terrestrial TV. It was the first time that had happened anywhere in the world, and that trend is accelerating.

Figures from Internet Advertising Bureau showed that 30% of all UK advertising budgets are now spent online – that’s the highest share of any market in Europe. Its survey, produced with PwC, shows that the UK online market also grew by 4.6% last year.

Another change it reported was on the amount being spent on mobile phone advertising – up by 32% last year to over £37bn. It says that’s a faster rate than expected due to a combination of targeting, immediacy and return on investment.

Advertising agencies in Scotland have been seeing that in action and are having to adapt. The Leith Agency, for instance, now offers a broad spectrum of services, from setting up a brand and design consultancy called “Leithal Thinking”, to direct response and digital marketing.

For the first time, they’re having to design online campaigns for some clients that almost guarantee a response from a buyer. It’s no longer just about brand awareness. Their effectiveness is judged solely by the numbers of viewers who click and buy.

Managing partner, Richard Marsham, says there are clear signs that the amount companies are spending on advertising is starting to recover quite rapidly. “Last year a lot had battened down the hatches,” he explained. “It was almost as though the country had put up a ‘closed’ sign. No-one knew how bad it was going to get and a lot of companies went under.

“But the first six months of the year have been very good for us. The work kept coming in. Yes, some clients in the financial sector cut back but we don’t have many. And others, such as in the drinks sector, were also still spending as normal. We also won public sector work throughout the UK. While that will inevitably be cut back, the work is still there – it’s just a lot more competitive.”

At The Gate, managing director, Helen Hourston, is also breathing a sigh of relief. “It’s been a tough couple of years but we have weathered them OK,” she says. “In fact, we’ve had two good years financially and hit the budgets set by our parent PLC.”

But she admits that “we’ve been lucky. Everything is much more project driven. The downside of that is that these can be cancelled or postponed. We went into 2010 thinking we’d make our targets. But my personal feeling is that next year will be the toughest.”

With all the reports about big cuts in public spending, she also feels relieved to be “not overly dependent on the public sector – only up to 35% of our revenue. The company is on the Scottish Government’s roster but only on the digital side.”

For some of the smaller agencies, the past couple of years have been cruel. Alex Stewart of Ocean70 had to cut the number of staff from nine to two and also moved out of expensive offices in Glasgow; the company’s now based in Linlithgow.

“From October 2008 a lot of clients just stopped spending.” he says, “We had to dig deep into our savings just to survive. And even now when the phone’s started ringing on a daily basis, people are asking for more discounted work. We have to work harder for every contract and make sure the service is up to scratch.

“Clients have also moved online. They’re looking at search engine optimisation, at email marketing and upgrading their websites. They want value for money and something that’s trackable. Make a TV ad and you can’t measure the results. Put the same thing online and you can. They get much more for the same money.”

Jim Devine of 21nine Advertising & Design also says he’s been going back to basics. “I’ve ended up spending a lot of time on my own marketing. Yes, there’s been a pick up in spending; but most clients want web advertising now.

“In the past year,” he says, “we’ve done no physical advertising. There’s also been a massive fall in TV advertising. There are signs of an upturn but it’s very patchy. Clients now want branding and you really have to be clever about what you’re offering for as little money as possible.”

But amongst the new entrants to the sector, there’s considerable optimism. The Borders-based Fruitful Advertising and Design started up in January 2007. Director Giles Etherington says that the timing helped because it was “still a nimble agency when the recession hit. As a start up, working outside the big cities, we have a distinct value for money advantage over the bigger agencies.

“When clients are looking to save money, but not skimp on quality, we became an attractive alternative. This has helped us not only survive, but thrive through the recession. We didn’t need to lay anybody off. We have probably used a little less freelance resource than we would have liked, but now we are looking to take people on.”

That said, he admits that clients did cut their budgets and they’re not expecting them to come back fully until 2011. However, he says that “a recession focusses all businesses on where they spend their money. Many clients will have seen that they can get the same quality of creative work from the smaller, nibbler agencies and will be reluctant to go back to the old way of doing things.

“I see the future of the industry being smaller companies working collaboratively to provide the client with the spectrum of services they require. But, it will only be those who provide the best quality and best service that will survive.”

Curiously, that’s a view shared by even some of the larger agencies. The Leith Agency has seen a growth in collaboration because, as Richard Marsham explains, “very few clients want a one-stop-shop. The majority are looking at key skills, at good ideas and creativity.”

But at The Gate, Helen Hourston argues that “people are no longer looking for specialists. They want agencies that can deliver a broad package across multiple channels. The old models no longer really apply.

“Clients will tell us: here’s the brand,” she explains, “now deliver it across a broad range of channels – direct marketing, radio, TV, online, PR, even community activity and in-store sales promotion. It’s a lot harder to deliver. There’s an expectation that you can deliver everything.”

Hourston also believes that the sector in Scotland has a much more difficult, much longer term problem to overcome, one, she argues, is also deep rooted. “There’s been a trend in the last 10 years for corporate decision taking to move down south,” she says “mostly as a result of mergers and acquisitions.

“20 years ago there were so many big businesses with head offices here but many of these have gone. It means there’s much less brand advertising and fewer TV ads made in Scotland. There are pockets of work around but the worry is that not much may come back.”

However, the recession means that many Scottish agencies now believe they have a better chance of competing against their London rivals. The Leith Agency has just won a major contract from Scottish and Southern Energy in a pitch against several London firms. A number of financial institutions have already indicated they’re looking beyond the M25.

The Scots argue that their lower overheads and the fact that clients are watching every penny means that they’re very attractive in a highly competitive market. The trouble is that they’ve made that case before in previous downturns without achieving a breakthrough. Will this time be any different?

Alcopop bottleFurther pressure is mounting on political opponents of the Scottish government’s proposals on minimum pricing for alcohol.

Research published in The Lancet today suggests that increasing alcohol prices could reduce consumption, deaths and costs to the health service. Although the research looks at England, its findings are equally applicable to Scotland.

Meanwhile, the Scottish Parliament’s health committee evidence shows that the policy has won the backing of a range of influential organisations – including the National Union of Students.

Of all the written submissions received by the health and sport committee, 107 were in favour of minimum pricing and 27 against.

Those who back minimum pricing include the Royal Colleges of GPs, Nursing, Physicians and Psychiatrists, the BMA, health boards, local authorities – and the Campaign for Real Ale (albeit with some conditions).

Those against include supermarkets and drinks companies – although not Tennents, which is in favour.

The research in The Lancet was welcomed by health secretary Nicola Sturgeon, who will give evidence to the health committee today. She said: “This robust research, which has been peer reviewed and will be published in The Lancet, backs our view that minimum pricing will have a significant effect on harmful and hazardous drinkers – particularly the heaviest drinkers who are doing the most harm to their health – and that will surely be a major incentive to change their drinking habits for the better.

“We have always maintained that minimum pricing can play an important part in addressing Scotland’s long-standing issues with alcohol and the policy is attracting growing and wide-ranging support.

“By targeting the high-strength alcohol which is sold at pocket money prices, minimum pricing will end the sale of alcohol for less than the cost of bottled water.”

Minimum pricing is one measure in the Alcohol (Scotland) Bill, which also includes proposals to ban irresponsible off-sales promotions, to allow local licensing boards to raise the age for off-sales to 21 and a power to introduce a social responsibility fee on some retailers to offset the costs of dealing with drink problems.

The new research comes from the University of Sheffield, which has modelled the effects of alcohol pricing and promotion policy options for England. These include across-the-board price rises, minimum pricing, restricting price-based promotions (eg buy-one-get-one-free), from prohibiting large discounts only through to a complete ban.

The research also looked at specific population sub-groups, including hazardous drinkers in the 18-24 age bracket, harmful drinkers and moderate drinkers.

The researchers found that, for a minimum cost of 50 pence per unit, there could be around 2,900 fewer premature deaths per year (in England) ten years after implementation, as well as 41,000 fewer cases of chronic illness and 8,000 fewer injuries each year. This unit price could also result in 92,000 fewer hospital admissions per year, and save the healthcare system in England £270 million each year. Average spend per drinker per year would increase by £37 under this pricing strategy.

For a minimum unit cost of 40 pence, the estimated effects are less marked but still substantial, the researchers, led by Dr Robin Purshouse, have found.

In terms of additional spending on alcohol, harmful drinkers are affected considerably more than moderate drinkers by minimum price policies. For example, for a 50p minimum price, a harmful drinker will spend on average an extra £163 per year (+7.2%) whilst the equivalent spending increase for a moderate drinker is £12 (+3.5%). This targeted effect arises because harmful drinkers purchase more of the cheap alcohol that is affected by a minimum price policy.

Of the other pricing policies considered, the authors say: “Prohibition of large discounts (for example buy-one-get-one-free offers) alone has little effect, but tight restrictions or total bans on off-trade discounting could have effects similar in scale to minimum price thresholds of £0·30–0·40. For young adults, and especially for those aged 18–24 years who are hazardous drinkers, policies that raise the price of cheaper alcohol in the on-trade sector (pubs and clubs) are most effective for achievement of harm reductions.”

Lancet Editor Dr Richard Horton said: “Excessive alcohol consumption has a large cost for society—in disease, death, and social harm. This latest study shows that a minimum pricing policy and restrictions on discounting of alcoholic beverages could significantly reduce consumption and improve health. In the UK, alcohol should be priority target for improving the wellbeing of our population. Making alcohol more expensive, combined with other measures, is an effective strategy for reducing its harmful effects.”

Labour, which has consistently opposed minimum pricing, has set up a commission to examine alternative ways to tackle Scotland’s alcohol problem.