Getting shortlisted for the UK Customer Experience awards is an achievement in itself. Winning an award is a huge success. Findel Education fought off strong competition from the likes of LV, Virgin Media and Capita to win Best Business Change or Transformation at this year’s event.
However not content with winning one award, in the same day Findel Education won The Best Customer Experience Programme at the North West Contact Centre Awards. In addition, they’ve recently won an award for Best Improvement Strategy at the European Call Centre and Customer Service Awards. As with success in many areas, the origin of their customer experience journey started a few years ago amidst a climate that was the opposite of where Findel Education are today.
If you’re not familiar with Findel Education, a trip to any school will soon reveal who they are. Part of Findel plc, they are Europe’s leading educational resources supplier, employing over 400 employees with an annual turnover of £104 million.
A little over 2 years ago they were a very different company and the word ‘customer’ was seen as a negative word to everyone internally. Findel Education had grown dramatically over the last 15 years through a series of acquisitions bringing together a multitude of different brands, people, systems and processes.
Not surprisingly, a full business review identified that there was a significant need to change as a business, and to focus on the customer experience delivery. The findings didn’t make for easy reading. They discovered that;
- They had lost a significant number of customers throughout 2010/11, resulting in £7m in lost sales.
- The business was not focused on the customers’ needs; removing cost was the main business driver for decisions.
- The marketplace was changing; there was more choice, less school funding and nothing to differentiate them from their competitors.
- Employees were not motivated.
- There was no clear company strategy or vision.
- Customer Service was a contact centre responsibility.
- They had a poor reputation for service in the market.
With this troubling environment and under a new leadership team there was the go ahead to launch a project aimed at turning the business around with 4 clear objectives;
- Understand what customers want.
- Become easy to do business with.
- Engage employees (to engage customers).
- Focus on continuous improvement.
Their new vision was to become the first choice for educational resources in the marketplace, and to achieve that they had to truly put the customer at the heart of everything they did and not just talk about it. Something that is a challenge for a lot of organisations looking to improve the customer experience but an important point of congruence between what an organisation says and what it actually does.
To kick this off, a ‘Best in Class’ service culture quickly became one of their new 8 strategic goals alongside people development and process excellence.
Part of the change in culture came early on by the introduction of 3 simple questions to get employees to think ‘customer first’.
This simple ‘Ask yourself’ campaign meant that every decision, every meeting, every discussion was focused on the customer. This became Findel Education’s customer mantra and meant that they could start to shape their customer experience change strategy.
In late 2010 the company launched their ‘Employee Voice’ and the ‘Customer Voice’ campaigns. This was a simple yet structured feedback programme that would help benchmark ongoing progress and also help them remain focused on taking the right actions.
Employees provided feedback around how customer and employee focused the business was. This gave people a voice about how Findel Education should do business and the experience provided to customers.
Once a quarter customers are asked three simple questions;
- Are you happy with the recent shopping experience?
- Would you shop with Findel Education again?
- Would you recommend Findel Education?
Despite the positive start, the company soon realised that they didn’t have a full view of what their customer experience looked like, where they were winning and where they were failing. They needed insight from an inside-out and an outside-in view of their existing customer experience. It was at this point they engaged performance improvement company Blue Sky.
This gave additional credibility to the programme and gained the support of employees. Hundreds of customers were involved and over 150 employees provided insight. The vast amount of information gained unfortunately presented an overwhelming picture of how much there was to fix.
However, as a priority, customers wanted Findel to focus on 4 key areas:
- Allow them to find the products they needed easily.
- To meet their service expectations, before, during and after they’ve shopped.
- For Findel to listen to them.
- To be ‘easy to do business with’.
In order to effectively manage the Customer Experience to deliver on what customers wanted, Findel Education built the foundations from the bottom up including restructuring their contact centre. Curiously, it was only at this point that Findel Education appointed a Head of Customer Service and a Learning and Development Manager. However prior to this, there had been little investment and little training but they soon realised that they couldn’t deliver the improvement programme without employee engagement and this ‘eureka’ moment formed a critical foundation to their success.
Quarterly review meetings focussed on what the business needed to do better in terms of performance and what needed to change, which resulted in improvement actions. This also ensured a process of both continuous improvement and continuous engagement with employees.
Employee engagement was a priority as all Customer Service Advisors needed to take on board the new policies and the company’s ‘Every Customer Counts’ training embedded this.
Advisors were also restricted by historical processes that had become barriers to customers doing business with Findel Education. If an item had to be returned for example due to a processing error by the company, the customer had to pay the return costs and Advisors had no ability to waive this fee. This gave birth to the ‘no hassle returns’ policy which delivered perfectly for customers on their fourth requirement of Findel Education’s being ‘easy to do business with’ which has subsequently gone on to become their mission statement.
Through various activities like Customer-focused training for all employees, regular “Buzz” sessions for Customer Service Advisors and a Management Training Programme to help managers support the culture change , the wider company and the contact centre culture has been effectively transformed. Employees now feel empowered to do the right thing for the customer and go that extra mile to deliver ‘Best in Class’ service.
Findel Education’s new approach to delivering a holistic customer experience was summed up by the introduction of their customer charter, focussing on the three key areas of success with customers.
- Customer focussed attitude
- Market leading proposition
- Best in class service
This charter was designed by employees based on customer feedback and has been communicated and is visible to everyone in the business and includes Findel Education’s service promise of which their ‘no hassle returns’ and ‘free next day delivery’ form a key part.
However, this new approach to business hasn’t come cheap. Findel Education have made a considerable investment in offering free next day delivery, and packaging and courier improvements. Furthermore they have clocked up 1,324 days of customer experience training in 2012 alone. First contact resolution is now the norm and the query to order process has significantly improved.
All this investment and effort though is already starting to pay dividends. Employee perception of Findel Education as a customer focussed business is up significantly year on year with 97% of employees believing that they give customers what they want, compared to only 58% in 2011.
This improvement in results is echoed from customers too. The customer voice feedback showed that 96% of customer were happy in September 2013. The highest score since the customer experience programme began. In the same month, repeat business scores hit 100%. Customer NPS is now at 80% up from only 50% in 2011.
For anyone still not convinced on the financial return on investing in the customer experience, the numbers for this business are healthy; sales this year are already ahead, average order frequency per customer is up from 3.7 to 5 and extra brand demand in 2012/13 equated to almost £3 million.
Findel Education acknowledge they still have a way to go on their journey despite the significant achievements they’ve already realised. They’ve already identified their next steps which include customer self-service, multi-channel integration and next generation training to name but a few initiatives.
However, for all their progress they’ve made they have certainly been worthy of their three awards and they have a great story to tell about what’s possible in delivering a great customer experience once the right foundations are in place. If they keep tracking as they are, they might need a much bigger awards cabinet next year.
This article was originally written for the December issue of The Customer Experience Magazine.