Steve Riddle was engaged in early 2013 to provide consulting, leadership and people development services and produce a report summarising the strengths and areas for improvement that existed at that time. The approach to undertake this review, prepare the report and provide recommendations was to engage stakeholders at all levels of the business including the contact centre, hardship, complaints teams and relevant people external to the centre. The original consultation period and subsequent review occurred between April and June 2013. A highly consultative and holistic approach was taken to review and examine various areas of the business, as highlighted in this document.
The contact centre industry has been a key focus and part of business structure for many medium and large organisations for over 30 years. When designed and functioning correctly the centre acts as a hub for existing customers and potential clients to seek additional information; purchase or apply for new business; seek clarification regarding existing products; and often most importantly, act as a single point of customer contact, in an efficient and cost-effective manner.
In recent years however, the contact centre industry has changed to meet business needs and customer expectations. Technology creation and enhancements, higher levels of customer awareness and expectations of service standards, as well as greater maturity of business understanding of what contact centres can provide has meant a subtle shift has occurred. However, even with this shift, the fundamentals of contact centres remain the same. Lean processes, agent efficiency, effective leadership, modern technology and systems provide the basis to ensure that the optimal internal culture is established and external customers feel the difference in a positive way.
The National Customer Solutions Contact Centre (NCSC) within Toyota Finance Australia (TFA) has gone through significant cultural, personnel and technological change over the past 18 months. This has proven to be a significant challenge and also provided a rewarding outcome as the business begins the next phase of its transformation. Managing the myriad of inputs and influences within the contact centre environment is a constant experiment. Understanding the implications of decisions made and actions taken on other elements of the business is one of the key attributes that is driven within the Centre and led to much of the improvement and resultant success.
NCSC Focus, Results & Outputs
The Beginning: Consultant Review
I was engaged by Brisbane based IT consultancy firm, Business Aspect, to analyse several areas of the customer service operations.
- Key Performance Indicators
- Resource levels and recruitment
- Workforce Management
- Reward and Recognition
- Training and Development
- Quality Measurement
- Social Media
- Staff engagement
In addition, data was provided by various sources including Team Leaders, Human Resources and Contact Centre leadership to provide context, basis and benchmarks for implementation and statistical analysis.
The report identified five core Focus Areas for the Contact Centre that impacted on the overall outcomes and experience of Toyota Finance customers:
1) Key Performance Indicators and Productivity
2) Workforce Management, Resourcing and Rostering
3) Technology and Self Service
4) Customer Interaction and Surveys
5) Employee Engagement and Development
Through discussion, data review and an awareness of current cultural and leadership challenges it was identified that these 5 focus areas could be further broken down into specific pillars I highlighted in the graphic below. These were considered to have the greatest impact on overall contact centre success.
The changes we made were significantly influenced by our improvements in technology, data and enhanced line of sight to what was happening in the business:
- New Genesys telephony platform
- Customer Surveys and Net Promoter Score
- Quality Assurance Functionality and Role
- Workforce management System and Role
- Employee Surveys
- Employee Focus Groups
Technology and systems enable growth, engagement and provide the information required to affect change.
Too often organisations implement new technology and expect that this, in itself, will be the game changer.
Technology certainly helps, however without maximising the opportunity through how the technology is applied and engaging our people to be the core part of implementation, we were almost certainly destined to fail or at best have a watered-down opportunity. This is why we focused much of our early attention on the cultural inputs and elements that were highlighted in the previous graphic.
One of the keys to knowing where to go in the future is to fully understand where you are now. Technology as an enabling and efficiency tool and data source is the core to gaining that understanding. The ‘tipping point’ for us came in February 2014 after technology enhancements in January.
Even simplistic sets of data allowed us to start to plan and create a strategy for our future. The challenge now became; how do we manage and collate this data and information into meaningful insights and trends.
We spent the first few months changing the culture to ensure that all of our team members had a sense of what the end goal looked like and to involve them as much as possible in the decision-making. This was achieved through data collection, analysis and staff development based on employee and customer feedback.
As with many things in life…a balance between often conflicting demands and beliefs had to be challenged.
Change and Growth
One of the keys to understanding what direction we needed to take was through identifying insights and trends from data. Until February of this year we had little data, few meaningful reports and were hamstrung in our decision making as a result. With few decisions, there were few actions.
That meant we had become very reactive and focused on the day-to-day management of the business, with little strategic direction or planning. Something needed to change and one of the most important steps was to better understand what our employees and customers thought about interacting and working with us.
How we went about changing this was to understand what our clients and customers want…by asking!
Customer Surveys provide strong numerical and empirical data for us to collate and identify trends that drive many of our actions and goals. Why do we bother to ask our key stakeholders? Quite simply, if we don’t ask we assume most things and most often get it wrong.
It has been my experience that without clarity we assume that our customers are looking for the same things we care about internally. This is often not the case. In Customer Experience it matters most how we make our customers feel.
The customer survey we developed consists of 3 questions: Transactional Net promoter Score (NPS); First Call Resolution (FCR); and Brand Sentiment NPS.
It is important to note that I recognise the difference between Transactional NPS (i.e. customer sentiment based on a single interaction) and Brand Sentiment NPS (measuring a customers ‘overall’ sentiment of a brand or company), however the broad implications regarding scores apply.
Taking this into account, however, the consistent monthly results of 60+ remain an extremely worthy comparative outcome when compared to the banking and finance industry averages indicated by the vertical red line on the graph. When comparing the results over the period from March to August 2014, it is apparent that many of our customers feel a great deal of satisfaction when dealing with the Centre.
The results which can be seen in the chart above reflect the excellent efforts of many within the centre, based on our ability to access more robust reporting and develop our people accordingly.
The First Call Resolution (FCR) target of 85% has also been exceeded since exception of the customer surveys and continues to improve with results of 96% in the most recent months. Most importantly, when delving into customer surveys it was the verbatim comments, both positive and constructive, that provided the raw material for us to draw on and develop a series of strategies and actions as a result.
Employee Engagement & Focus Groups
Employee Survey Results 2013: Last years employee survey was conducted during the early stages of the Centre’s cultural shift. We were and remain, very conscious of the rapid change that was occurring and worked to ensure that our team members were participating in and communicated to regarding our progress, next steps and ultimate goals. Feedback received indicated that there was a level of cynicism regarding the Centre’s systems and processes, as well as a significant change to leadership personnel which was felt by many. Additionally, the shift in accountability and first-stage development of KPI’s better suited to each role took some time to be understood and accepted.
As a result of the survey a few initiatives were introduced, however the original Centre Review (delivered and approved for implementation in June 2013) and subsequent goals were already in play prior to the survey period.
It is important to ask our team members what is working well and what is not. An example of the type of information gathered was when I facilitated focus groups of 2-3 people in 2014, asking the following questions of our team members:
1. What is working well currently within our business? What areas of our business have improved over the past 6-12 months?
2. How do you feel about coming to work every morning?
3. What are the key areas of frustration for you?
4. What would you do to change your working world if there were no restrictions or limitations?
5. What could we do to improve our leadership and communication?
6. Do you have enough opportunities to contribute to decisions that affect you?
7. Do you understand how your role contributes to achieving business outcomes?
8. What questions do you have for me? What would you like to better understand about our business and/or the direction we are heading?
The sessions were discussion based and the idea was to speak with enough of our team to gauge what areas were working fine and what we need to do to make our business even better. Importantly, the actions and response from this information were key to performance improvement and engagement.
Consolidation and the Future
Whereas the recent consolidation and improvement of processes, technology, structure and metric/results has been substantial, there is still a way to go to meet the high expectations positioned for our team. One of the key challenges has been balancing the rapid change required with the ability to manage the processes and lead through expected employee engagement challenges. For the most part, this has been achieved to plan and has created genuine opportunity for the next 1-3 years.
Key gains and metric improvements have been realised, yet the next phase is about making the most of the solid base created via continued improved employee engagement initiatives and taking the Centre to another level of customer service, whilst also highlighting sales and retention opportunities. Ultimately, the focus is on continuing to develop a culture that exceeds expectations both internally and externally. Whereas many actions and goals have been identified to occur in FY15, many of them will continue into future years and be added to as the Centre culture develops and additional programs of work are identified.
In order to formalise a handover document for my replacement I created a Business Plan detailing what I would focus on if I remained in the role. The plan and its content remain fluid and should be reviewed and updated regularly.
The new leadership team have free reign to take action and set goals accordingly, however the opportunity to explain the past to understand the future is important. The key idea is that as an overall statement of intent and the execution of the goals and strategy will take the Contact Centre, Complaints and Hardship teams through its next phase, setting benchmarks within the industry. There is little doubt the baseline for this to occur has been established, however there is a genuine risk of plateauing as observed in the first half of 2014, stifling opportunity and momentum.
Ultimately, we are focused on continuing to develop a culture that exceeds expectations both internally and externally. The business plan highlights the specific strategies, goals, actions and tactics that will assist to realise this opportunity.
Outcomes and Results
All of this work needs to mean something by reflecting improvement in our KPI’s, metrics and results. Pleasingly this has been the case.
By comparing the results from August 2013 to August 2014, it is clear that improvement exists across all areas of our business; the Contact Centre, Hardship and Complaints.
We have seen ongoing incremental improvement in the abandonment rate from 6% in April to 2% in August. This exceeds the target and importantly is a new benchmark internally, with a greater likelihood to meet this consistently based on earlier decisions and actions. The comparative result of 42% abandoned rate in August 2013 highlights the improvement. Along with GOS, this is our single biggest indicator of consistency in service, particularly as we manage this metric at more granular levels and intervals also.
The Grade of Service (GOS) has improved dramatically from a historical result consistently under 20% and a low of 6% in August 2013. GOS remains our single most effective measure of how our contact centre is progressing, however must be taken into account with customer/employee survey and quality results to ensure we are not succeeding at the expense of those who matter the most, as highlighted earlier in this document.
Average Speed of Answer of 38 seconds in August compared to 114 seconds in April 2014 and 606 seconds in August 2013.
Non-phone customer contact outstanding items at end of month (Emails, Letters & Faxes) of < 92 from April onwards, compared to 1,332 in October 2013. This has reduced calls and complaints significantly into the centre through First Call Resolution.
Agent Quality Assurance average score of 81% in September compared to 69% in April 2014. This is as a result of several initiatives; most specifically enhanced coaching and time spent developing our team members at Team Leader and Agent level.
The Hardship and Complaints teams continue to excel in improving the results, which have turned around since June 2013.
As an example, the early-stage or Internal Disputes Resolution complaints have seen significant improvement since June 2013, escalating during 2014. The comparison between June and September 2014 and the same period last year highlights the ongoing improvement:
- 2013 – Complaint Resolution/delivery: 21 days = 87%%; 5 days = 70%; same day as received = 34%
- June 2014 – Complaint Resolution/delivery: 21 days = 94%; 5 days = 72%; same day as received = 47%
- Sept 2014 – Complaint Resolution/delivery: 21 days = 100%; 5 days = 89%; same day as received = 74%
The team are rightly very proud of their achievements, however opportunities remain. The ability to gain even greater consistency, continue to improve our technology; take recent people development initiatives even further; analyse and break down the ever-growing sets of data into meaningful trends and insights; ensuring our customer’s remain as highly satisfied as they currently are; and other initiatives as highlighted in this and other documents, are all required focus areas. The business is well-placed to make this a reality.
On a personal note I would like to acknowledge and thank the senior leadership team for their support and faith in making the original strategy and plans into a reality. I have mentioned many times that it is only due to the opportunity to review and impact the entire operation including policies; people & culture; personal and professional development; technology; systems and similar elements, that the gains have been as significant as they have.
Most importantly, it is the people in the Contact Centre, Hardship and Complaints teams who have been prepared to accept, buy into and ultimately apply the change that was (and remains) necessary. It is what we do day-to- day that matters the most! Thank you most sincerely to you all.