“Will I be the guest speaker, just tell a few stories from the front line of customer service and hopefully be entertaining?” I can guarantee the former, so yes. I was absolutely delighted to be asked to attend the UK Customer Experience Awards ceremony at One Whitehall last week. This is the UK’s most highly respected organisational awards, established as long ago as 1994, the award has become the benchmark for companies claiming to be customer focused. Thanks to John Hughes at Customer Service Network for the invitation and his masterful hosting of the day.
It was great to be involved. The award recognises organisations in the UK that excel at delivering customer service and it’s so energising to be in their company, no also-rans, no inconsistent deliverers and not surprisingly Orange mobile and South West trains weren’t in the room. Though they did figure in my stories, as did Continental Airlines whose service to me in the USA, a few years ago, has yet to be bettered.
The benchmarking and sharing nature of the awards is fundamental to their long running success. The team of assessors (I am one) help organisations find their strengths and weaknesses, provide benchmarks and guidance to help them improve service performance.
I remember when at the helm of Rackspace (overall winners in 2005) we did over 20 benchmarking visits (visiting other firms to find and copy great ideas) during the year before winning. Hard work pays off tomorrow and plagiarism pays off today – so to speak. Now running PEER 1 Hosting in the UK we are on our own service excellence journey. The start point at PEER 1 Hosting is different, this time less good to great and more great to outstanding. The Net Promoter Score (NPS) is already world-class in terms of IT service firms (36 in 2009) so the challenge is to become one of the top service firms in the world in any sector, where scores in the high 70s and low 80s are the norm.
Some of the former winning organisations that offer inspiration today at PEER 1 Hosting are:
Bromford Housing Group (Winners 2007) – Helena has been a great ambassador for the team. I have stolen among other things the rant line and the careers sections of their website and the talent bank idea.
Happy (Winners 2003) – Henry and the team were back in the awards again this year (winners need to sit out for 3 years). I love the relaxed feel of their office and the colourful bean bags at Ocean Village are Happy in origin. I have enlighten on the business value of diversity; we are now actively seeking employees to job share of fill roles part-time. The management training element of the business is outstanding and I have used Kathy (MD) in the past to inspire young managers and will again. Finally, what’s not to like about free ice lollies? So we have bought a freezer for the new office so we can copy this one as well!
Nationwide Building Society (Winners 2002) – It was a long time ago that I saw their first PRIDE values video. The video was an internal communication tool to tighten up the understanding of what it meant to work at Nationwide. I have copied this idea several times already and have another PEER 1 Hosting video in the works – incidentally by the same video crew www.lovefilmproductions.com who did their video a few years ago. From values flow behaviours, at Nationwide they see these at 4 levels with expected behaviours for directors being different to front line branch staff. We have just started to trial some feedback tools with staff in the UK based on the ideas I picked up at Nationwide.
First Direct (Winners in both 1998 and 2004) – I am an evangelist for FD! I have been a customer for so long I can’t remember who I used to bank with and when. Simplicity of service access is important to customers, well FD’s customers. The phones are answered in a few rings by a real person. FD have an algorithm to work out the number of staff they need so you never get an automated voice telling you are so important to them they haven’t got enough staff so they can’t speak to you at the moment – I call this a service denial strategy and it is much-loved of utilities and mobile phone operators (including Orange). Their annual customer churn is 4%, which they also point out is the rate that the population in the UK dies or emigrates; I’m a sucker for a catchy stat! The concierge service is amazing (love to emulate) and the access to on site massage is one we already have plans for.
Rackspace (Winners 2005) – Some of the things we did here were unique and worth copying/doing again. I always enjoyed “free food day”, feed everyone the day before payday with the rationale that the employees will not have any cash left themselves to pay lunch. “Top 10 things you don’t know about me” – all new starters fill this in and it gets emailed around before they start and goes on the wall. In fact, this was stolen from ?Wahtif! and I have used it again and again. The inspiration for the home-made chocolate cake to be severed to visitors came from their amazing welcome tray (see the image at the top). At Rackspace they were baked by Sam’s mum and at PEER 1 Hosting they are lovingly prepared by Nicole at Love Yum. Corporate values on the wall in the open space and not forgotten gather dust on a shelf, staff recognition based on expressing these values – both these were picked up from ?Wahtif!.