Editor’s Note: Ron Leeman is a world-recognized Change Manager and author of several Change, Process, and Project training guides on Flevy. He has decided to write a series of articles that chronicle his personal “change” journey. This is the second installment (part). You can read beginning from the first piece here. You can also learn more about Ron and his approach to Change in our recent interview with him.
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So that’s the Abbey National Years out of the way with. Thank goodness those dark days were now behind me but what did the future hold?
Anecdote time… of course when I resigned I lost the use of my Company Car so I needed to buy one to get me about. Not being flush with cash at that time I went cap in hand to my father (god rest his soul) to borrow the money. I eventually bought a 2nd hand Vauxhall… nothing that compared to my previous cars but hey it worked and beggars can’t be choosers.
As I said at the end of my last article this one relates to my first assignment as an Independent Consultant … a Business Process Change Consultant for Prudential Corporation tasked with looking at Complaint Handling and Service Recovery processes in their Direct Sales & Customer Service Division (DSCS) based in Reading.
How did I get the job?
After I resigned and found out that both my Benchmarking initiatives had fallen by the wayside I registered with many Recruitment Agencies one of which we used extensively at Abbey National when we needed additional help during the Branch Study programme. Having developed a good relationship with them over the years they were fully aware of my capabilities so were extremely proactive in trying to find me a role. After about 4-weeks of twiddling my thumbs I managed to secure an interview. The interview went well and a few days later I wasn’t really surprised when I was told that I had secured a 3-month contract with Prudential at a daily rate, which when compared to my salary at Abbey National, meant that I would earn in 3-months what I would have previously have earned in 9-months. Welcome to lucrative the world of contracting I thought!
On my first day I met with the person that interviewed me and was told that based on the quality of the interview they couldn’t wait for me to start the assignment… nice bit of feedback to start off with!
But, what about the assignment itself?
The review was prompted by customer feedback that indicated that only 3 out of 10 complainants would do business with the Prudential again!
The stated objective was that this should be turned around to 9 out of 10 complainants would do business with Prudential again
Some challenge for a first assignment and for such a reputable company. Could I cut it? Let’s see!
Due to the tight timescales effort had to be concentrated on identifying key issues and obvious opportunities for improvement thereby providing a focus and solid platform from which to drive any further activity that was deemed appropriate.
The scope of the project would cover:
All complaints … the Prudential’s definition of a complaint was:
And the following Regions/Area:
- All Regions: i.e. Central, Eastern, Northern, Southern and Western.
- The Call Centre.
- Special Products.
So, on with my thinking hat.
I decided that the best approach was an overarching review which had four specific but inter-related phases i.e.:
- Business Process Review.
- Validation of Staff Perceptions.
- Staff Competency Profiling.
- Customer Feedback Analysis
Business Process Review Findings
It was ascertained that this was the first key stage in the complaint handling and service recovery life cycle and the following issues were raised:
- A lot of reliance was placed on indexing staff to effectively identify complaints.
- There was a high turnover of staff.
- There was evidence that staff had undergone some training, however, it is questionable that this constituted enough in terms of frequency given the high turnover issue and importance of complaint identification.
- Indexing work was productivity related and target driven so it was therefore arguable that this fitted comfortably with the need to be focused and thorough when identifying complaints.
It was ascertained that working practices and the level of importance placed on complaint handling and service recovery varied greatly from Region to Region e.g.
Tracking and Monitoring:
- Some Regions were not logging complaints at all whilst others were undertaking some superficial logging.
- One Region was piloting a centralised complaints process and were undertaking some logging.
- Some Regions were sending out RPQ’s on an ad-hoc basis whilst another sent one to every complainant.
- Because of the inconsistent approach to monitoring no root cause analysis was being undertaken by Regions.
Training and Coaching:
- Most Regions had not had any formal training or coaching in complaint handling and service recovery.
- There was a general consensus that since the introduction of WF&I and resultant productivity targets, complaint handling and service recovery was seen as a distraction from normal processing work.
- Identification of complaints was raised as an issue in that on numerous occasions complaints were being discovered on a WF&I work queue without a complaints marker – no data was available to support this statement.
- A new WF&I complaints work ‘Q’ had been released but this will only identify complaints at a high level e.g. Regulatory, non-Regulatory, Press and CEO/MDO complaints. There will still have to be some form of manual logging to identify lower level complaint categories.
- There was a body of opinion that thought complaints categories were not as appropriate as they might be e.g. speed of service and staff attitude did not really give an indication of any specific problems.
- With regard to the various pilots, these were mainly of an ad-hoc nature and did not seem to have any pre-determined success criteria or any adequate monitoring mechanisms in place to enable success or otherwise to be determined.
- Because of the lack of monitoring it was difficult to ascertain the exact amount of time spent on complaint handling and service recovery, however, estimates given were:
- 5 % to 10%.
- 10% to 15%.
- Approximately 5%.
It was ascertained that complaint handling and service recovery in the Call Centre was relatively consistent although not yet mature e.g.
- Complaints were logged on a tracking sheet but these only related to those complaints attributable to the Call Centre itself and ‘1 and done’ complaints. This does not provide a full picture of numbers of complaints coming into the Call Centre.
- Those complaints that could not immediately be resolved were passed onto relevant areas via a work item on WF&I with a complaint marker but no record was kept.
- Coaches had a defined role in relation to complaint handling and service recovery in that they attended regular monthly meetings with a representative of Customer Recovery Unit.
- They were responsible for delivering training and coaching to Call Centre staff.
With regard to feedback mechanisms, the Call Centre had:
- Introduced customer surveys which included specific questions relating to complaint handling and service recovery.
- Undertaken ‘evening call backs’ to customers in relation to the service provided by the Call Centre.
- Productivity targets in relation to calls handled, call duration’s etc. were not seen as being conducive to effective complaint handling and service recovery.
It was ascertained that Special Products had introduced a process whereby one person was responsible for all complaint handling and service recovery aspects within the department. This had provided for a better focus e.g.
- All complaints were logged and monitored.
- Root cause analysis was conducted and action was taken on any issues arising.
- The complaint co-ordinator had had some formal training and coaching in complaint handling and service recovery and had cascaded that training to other members of the Special Products staff.
- The majority of complaints were written. Those complaints that came in via the Special Products Call Centre, if not resolved immediately, were passed over to the complaint co-ordinator, via a manual form for resolution.
- Approximate volume of complaints was between 90 to 100 per month.
- RPQ’s were sent out only when it was considered that a complaint had been fully resolved.
- A view was expressed that productivity had increased since taking complaints handling and service recovery out of the normal processing cycle – no data was available to support this supposition.
Validation of Staff Perceptions
In the first instance a number of interviews were undertaken to ascertain the following:
- Views expressed in relation to what was considered as being the primary aims in relation to complaint handling and service recovery.
- Views expressed in relation to what were felt to be key personal attributes and competencies in relation to complaint handling and service recovery.
The two tables below show the results of those fact-find interviews:
Key Personal Attributes
To validate these a staff survey was conducted via a questionnaire was issued to all staff who were asked to say whether they agreed or disagreed with certain statements. The questionnaire contained six statements to which staff were asked if they agreed or disagreed i.e.:
- Complaints are consistently treated as a high priority!
- Being seen to be good at complaint handling is a specialism with kudos that staff aspire to!
- Complaints are seen as a necessary evil rather than an opportunity to excel!
- Learning from complaints and delivering changes occurs in a disciplined and consistent manner!
- The overall tracking, controlling and handling of complaints is lacking in focus!
- Training, coaching and nurturing staff involved in complaint handling and service recovery is adequate.
As you can see the results showed that whilst the answer to 1. showed an average of 80% (with the Call Centre being an exception which was compounded by their answer to 5.) the answers to the other statements were worrying specifically the 69% average to statement 2. and the extremely low average of 23% to statement 6.
This clearly indicated that there was a major problem regarding staff’s perception of complaint handling and service recovery.
Staff Competency Profiling
It was also considered that complaint handling required a specific type of person, to which end a ‘person profile’ was developed which reflected all the key attributes that an ideal person should possess to excel at complaint handling and service recovery. The areas chosen were as follows:
In order ascertain the degree to which staff in DSCS felt they met these criteria a ‘self-assessment’ questionnaire was devised which was based on a score of 1 to 10 – a score of 1 indicating ‘a low level of’ and a score of 10 indicating ‘a high level of’.
The following graph shows the overall scores for each Region/Area in relation to the four key attributes of skills, qualities, knowledge and experience.
As this was a self-assessment exercise the results needed to be treated with an amount of caution, however, it was clear that staff felt they possessed the necessary attributes but what was slightly lacking was their experience.
Customer Feedback Analysis
To gain another perspective of complaints handing and service recovery and to validate the 7 out of 10 customers would/or might not do business with Prudential again, results of RPQ’s returned for the period July 1996 to September 1996, were analysed with regard to the level of customer satisfaction which sought answers to 6 questions regarding level of satisfaction:
- With the speed and efficiency in which the complaint was handled.
- Whether the complaint was handled with sympathy and courtesy.
- Whether the complaint was handled fairly.
- Whether the complaint was handled with expertise and competence.
- With regard to the quality of correspondence.
- With regard to being informed of progress during the complaints life-cycle.
The charts below show the results of that analysis including an overall summary:
Note1: There were no results for Southern Region as they didn’t send out RPQ’s.
Note 2: Because of the nature of Call Centre Complaints they used outbound calling (for which no data was available) and did not use RPQ’s
It was interesting to note that in 4 out of the 6 categories Special Products much better than the other regions/areas which was a reflection of the fact that they had one person was responsible for all complaint handling and service recovery aspects within the department.
At the other end of the spectrum Eastern Region had consistently low scores across all of the 6 categories.
The results also validated the original feedback that indicated that only 3 out of 10 complainants would do business with the Prudential again!
Based on the Process Review, Validation of Staff Perceptions, Staff Competency Profiling Survey and analysis of Reply Paid Questionnaires the main recommendation was:
Associated with that recommendation were the following:
- Could be undertaken on a rotational basis e.g. either three or six monthly cycle.
- Role responsibilities would include:
- Handling all complaints including CEO/MDO.
- Cascade training to the line.
- Tracking and monitoring e.g. updating Lotus Notes.
- Actioning the WF&I complaints ‘Q’.
- Allocating complaints to line staff ensuring close liaison with CSM’s in relation to work allocation.
- Responsibility for sending out RPQ’s and the collation and distribution of all relevant MI to interested parties.
- Highlighting and recording complaints found not to be in complaint work ‘Q’.
- Attendance at regular ‘benchmarking’ meetings with individuals performing the same role in other Regions.
- Liaison with Customer Retention Unit on any relevant complaint/service recovery matters.
- The ideal person to perform this role should come from within the Regional structure and have the following attributes:
- Formal specialist training e.g. TARP’s Diffusion of Anger and I.A.N.A. (Identify, Assess, Negotiate, Act) Problem Solving Process workshop.
- Customer focus.
- Excellent oral and written communication skills.
- Sound technical ability.
- Good organisational awareness
- The new role should be piloted:
- By formalising the Northern Region initiative and include a further Region, say Central, but ensuring that pre-determined success criteria and robust monitoring mechanisms are in place.
- Results from the pilot should be compared against a control group consisting of the other three Regions and Special Products who would continue with their present working practices.
- The pilot should last for a minimum of 3-months and be continuously evaluated to develop any new initiatives or act on any issues arising thereby ensuring focus at all times
During the course of the review a number of other issues arose that had/could have a major impact on complaints handling and service recovery within DSCS. Recommendations are as follows:
- Tracking and monitoring – undertake a review the present system of recording complaints. Findings indicate that there are three separate versions of Lotus Notes used for recording complaints none of which can interface with each other. It is understood some work is in its early stage in relation to this recommendation.
- Complaint categories – undertake a review of complaint categories which currently do not go down a desired level of detail. This will facilitate root cause analysis and enable focus on the major causes of complaints.
- Training and coaching – address the need for a more formalised approach to training and coaching e.g. regular awareness workshops, cascade training, distribution of relevant MI, etc.
So there we have it the recommendations were a culmination of my 3-months efforts and I am pleased to say that all the recommendations I made were accepted and, as I later found out, were being implemented.
So all in all a successful fits contract to get under my belt at the start of my “independent” career.
Anecdote time … following this contract I was asked to work for the Prudentials’ Customer Recovery Unit for 6-weeks to help them with devising their customer retention strategy. Having finalised the strategy we arranged for a presentation to all of the Prudentials staff involved in complaints handling and service recovery staff. To demonstrate a “service failure” we asked attendees to be turn up on time but then made them wait for 10 minutes before the presentation team arrived. It was interesting to see how many people in the audience got visibly agitated which was the whole point of the exercise. On arrival the presentation team explained what we had done much to the amusement (and relief) of the audience.
So, what’s next?
Whilst there followed a number of contracts the next one I will recount is my assignment as a Business Change Programme Manager for, what was then, The Department for the Environment, Transport and Regions (DETR), a UK Central Government body who were implementing a Ministerial Electronic Briefing System as part of the Governments overarching Knowledge Network Project.