Saving Customers

We believe that saving customers from churning and seeking out competitors by turning them into raving fans and vocal advocates, is one of the most important things, if not the most important activity, that a business can undertake.

Because no customers = no business!

In this section we introduce best practices and highlight companies that truly understand this simple, but incredibly frequently overlooked premise and have implemented a Total Business Blueprint to ensure that they continue to stay at the top of their game and that customers recognize this with their loyalty and their purchases.

We recently met with Bill Kalyan, Head of Sales and Service Centre at Autoglass® in Bedford. Bill kindly gave us a tour of the contact centre and introduced us to a number of his staff who clearly demonstrated their passion and enthusiasm for not only saving customers from windscreen disaster, but turning them into long term fans and followers on Facebook and Twitter.

This is their story.

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Autoglass® has a clear vision for a great customer experience

It was a dark and stormy night. The woman, stranded by the side of a motorway on the rawest of December days, shivered and peered anxiously into her rear view mirror hoping to see the reassuring lights of the breakdown service van that she hoped was coming soon to help her change her tyre. “Two hours” they said, and, as her mobile phone was running desperately low on power, she couldn’t even risk calling home to let them know what had happened in case the RAC couldn’t find her and she needed to call again.

Then she saw it and her spirits were immediately lifted; a brightly lit vehicle pulled up and she thought “thank God, they’re early.” But it wasn’t the RAC, it was even better than that. It was Gavin from Autoglass® – well it wasn’t actually Gavin, but someone just as good. But wait a minute; Autoglass® don’t fix tyres do they? No, but what they do very well is empathy and compassion and are frequently motorway “Good Samaritans”, who stop and help motorists, especially in times of obvious dire need.

I learnt of this great customer experience when I visited Bill Kalyan, Head of Sales and Service Centre at the Autoglass® head-quarters in Bedford, where they have an impressively large binder full of good news stories from customers who have experienced a level of care rarely seen in any business in the UK. I was there to learn why Autoglass® has become a household name.  Autoglass®Autoglass_Heroes_300dpi is a distress purchase, and as Bill said.” I’m sure none of you have said to your partner;”hey, why don’t we go out and look at new windscreens today.” But, despite that, Autoglass® has generated a significant following on Facebook and Twitter showing how important it is to create a strong presence and positive sentiment out in social media land, even if there isn’t an immediate need for your product.

But this isn’t really just about social media, although we will revisit that later. This is how an organization that started in Bedford in 1972, has grown to be a leading consumer automotive service brand, providing vehicle glass repairs and replacements to over 1  million motorists every year. Autoglass® has over 100 branches nationwide and 1,200 mobile technicians serving customers 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.  They are part of the global Belron group, operating in 34 countries with a team of over 10,000 highly skilled technicians serving an average of one customer every four seconds. So that’s the history lesson, but it really doesn’t tell the complete story.

Autoglass® is primarily a service provider to the insurance industry. The company also serves motorists directly and being able to empathetically and promptly deal with the types of difficulties that we find ourselves in when a windscreen goes pop, is critical to their success, and the continued positive customer experience they engender.

Powered by People

 

As with other businesses that deliver a consistently great customer experience, much of this is down to the people. Sounds so simple doesn’t it? Just hire the right people and they’ll crawl over broken glass for you. Well, very few organizations that I’ve been involved in over the years get this right. It’s clear that Autoglass® has recognized that people really do make a difference, especially when given the right level of training, trust and authority to make decisions and solve problems.

While Autoglass® do deploy some standard contact centre metrics, the focus is mainly on positive outcomes for the customer, and first call resolution. The advisors are measured on the value delivered and fully empowered and encouraged to do the right thing for the customer. This isn’t always that easy, as often the level of insurance cover that the customer has can lead to disappointment, as some policies do not have glass cover and the customer must pay for the service themselves.  Despite this, and as I heard from the conversations, the advisors are able to deliver this potentially painful message with care and compassion, and the words “well that’s our policy” are seldom, if ever heard.

Their ability to do this consistently is evidenced by the fact that the majority of the advisors are on the front line dealing with, and resolving, the initial inquiry and effectively making a “sale.” With over 300 people employed in the sales and service centre, only a small number of these are dedicated to customer recovery, typically getting involved when things don’t go according to plan. This doesn’t happen that often, but Bill is quick to note, “When things do go wrong, it’s how you recover and delight the customer that truly sets you apart from other companies.”

At any one time there are usually around 150 people in the contact centre, and one of the first things that I noticed was the discernible but pleasant hum of positive activity throughout the centre. This was strangely comforting, having witnessed interactions of escalating frustration, visible mayhem and a joltingly high decibel count in many other contact centres that I’ve visited. This seemed to reflect the fact that while the customers on the other end of the phone were all having a “bad experience” with their windscreens, the team was quietly and confidently bringing them empathy, clarity and relief.

During my visit, I was able to spend time both listening to some of the conversations that the customer advisors were having and to see how their systems supported them in delivering a fast, efficient and accurate service. Autoglass® is rated as one of the top Customer Service providers in the UK, as measured by a Net Promoter Score (NPS), which has consistently rated over 75% over the last three years. Just to put this in perspective, most banks and telecoms typically “achieve” scores in the minus category. Many contact centres have pretty high turnover rates, due in part to unpleasant working conditions and unrealistic metrics forced on them by unsympathetic management teams driven by the mantra of “adding shareholder value”.  

Autoglass® has only 15% attrition, with an average tenure of 6 years, and many of their staff having over 20 years’ service. But it’s not just the people in customer service. The whole company gets involved, especially when call volumes increase on cold winter mornings. Dependent on how busy they are, almost anyone from the Directors to the rest of the management team, man the phones to ensure customer’s calls are quickly answered.  As a result, complacency doesn’t get a look-in at Autoglass®, as all employees get a regular reminder of how important their role is and how appreciative and supportive customers are when they come through in a crisis.

It wasn’t always like this though. Bill told me that when he first started, 26 years ago (Alex Ferguson was also job hunting then, but had to settle for Man U!) and for many years after, the contact centre was a small, dark room where the employees were kept under lock and key for 8 hours and only allowed out for brief comfort breaks and the occasional thimble full of water. Alright, I made that bit up, but you get my drift and, as with many businesses, they were seen as a disconnected cost centre and certainly not integrated into the rest of the business culturally, technologically or geographically.

In the early days much of the business was done via the local service centres, especially before mobile phones came along to liberate us all. Now 95% of the initial interactions are handled through the contact centre by phone, or by the new Autoglass® smartphone app. Consequently, as a result of the trust instilled in them and the encouragement and support provide by Bill and the rest of the management team, the contact centre team knows that as far as the customer is concerned, they are the company, and respond enthusiastically and positively to each new challenge.

Culture drives the business forward

Another key component to the company’s success is the culture of excellence that has grown up over the last few years. Autoglass® has given the customer service centre the guidance, tools and authority to make timely decisions and they are clearly proud of what they do and the role they play in rescuing customers in need. Most are smartly attired in, and seem empowered by, an Autoglass® “uniform”, and it’s certainly feels as if this contributes to the high quality, and friendly, confident approach to customers shown by the contact centre, branch and mobile technician workforce.

A clear signal of the importance of building an inclusive and innovative culture was the appointment in 2011 of Carol Carson, formerly of The Body Shop, (that’s the cosmetic company, not a car repair business) as the new HR director. Carol heads up the various human resources divisions across the company, and is working with the wider team to bring all divisions closer together, streamline training for all staff and, in doing so, creating the right climate of cooperation for teams across the business.

One of the HR initiatives that Bill told me about has been the focus on enhanced flexible working practices, whereby employees willingly put in additional hours during the busy periods but are then able to benefit from more time off at other times of the year. This innovation has also lead to industry recognition and Autoglass® was the winner of the Customer Contact Innovation award from the Professional Planning Forum in 2011

Coaching also is also a prominent part of the cultural mix. All of the customer service team participate in regular sessions that continue to build their company and product knowledge, as well as their communication and life skills that enable continually enhanced customer conversations and interactions.

Autoglass® has also fostered a tremendous culture of quality and this is exemplified by the development of the Autoglass® National Skills Centre (NSC), further improving the technicians’ skill sets to excel the company’s promise for a world class service.

Another big cultural change that Bill has overseen, and contributed to, is the cross-functional alignment of the business, which is a key element of a successful customer experience strategy. The senior management team meet every Monday to review strategic, tactical and operational initiatives and to ensure that there is visibility, understanding and agreement of various departmental activities that affect the whole business.

The importance of family values permeates the business and shows that employee engagement is not just a trite phrase, but is a vibrant and inspiring creative influence that many other organizations would do well to emulate. Bill tells me that he regularly hosts visits from other customer service teams that want to discover the blend of ingredients that helps his people gel into a team delivering consistently reliable and quantifiable results.

Technology supports the vision

Many organizations look to technology to bail them out of difficult situations, and, more often, blame their legacy data systems for the abysmal state of their customer records that contribute to poor customer service. Autoglass® has made sure that they have aligned their ambition with the corresponding technology to meet evolving customer demands and expectations, while ensuring that it provides the capability for smooth and speedy processes for the customer service teams.

As most customers need immediate attention, the first port of call is usually the phone. Callers are greeted with a clear and easily navigable self-service menu to connect them with the right person. For those on the road, the Autoglass® smartphone app provides visual dialing, a call-back service and email, for less pressing requests. The website is equally impressive and functionally friendly and clearly shows the phone number, the call-back option, or an on-line booking capability on every page.  In 2011, Autoglass® became the first UK service company to launch an integrated Facebook app for bookings which allowed them to engage customers in a broader brand feedback discussion.

The Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system is a rich source of data that is tightly integrated with insurance company systems that quickly allow the advisors to bring up the relevant information on the customer, the vehicle and the associated insurance details. This means that rather than navigating through myriad screens that lead to the advisor in many contact centres emitting the immortal phrase “my system is slow today”, the Autoglass® advisor typically has all of the relevant information on a single screen, and can quickly and professionally complete the transaction.

Autoglass® also recognized that social media was becoming more important to their customers, and a number of years ago began to look at what impact it was having on the brand.  As a result of their very successful TV ads featuring Gavin, the technician, Facebook groups sprang up with thousands of people talking about Gavin. This showed that despite the “distress” nature of the purchase, people were legitimately interested in interacting with the company, perhaps for a little in fun at first, but also because for many having a windscreen problem wasn’t an everyday occurrence and gave Autoglass® an opportunity to play a market leading role, providing a genuinely valuable and timely service.

Of course once you put yourself out there, it’s even more important that you can respond quickly and authoritatively to both positive and negative posts. Autoglass® has had their share of the latter and clearly being able to deal with these quickly, while addressing the core problem is of vital importance. Bill introduced me to Emma and Mike who are up in the “Twittersphere” and he is clearly proud of the role they play in responding promptly to any Facebook or Twitter posts. It’s not a perfect world, and even Autoglass® sometimes make a mistake, but when they do, and especially if the customer lets the world know via social media, Emma and Mike are quick to step in and calm the situation down. What’s great about it is that they are located with the rest of their colleagues in the service centre, have access to all customer data, and take total responsibility for any problem that comes their way and see it through to a usually happy ending.

Community spirit pays long term dividends

Businesses that give back to the community, especially through the participation of their employees, generally end up with a far stronger sense of purpose, beyond simply making a profit.  Autoglass® is no exception, and is an active and involved member of the community where engaged and like-minded employees demonstrate their willingness to help others less fortunate than themselves. The company has regularly provided its contact centre facilities and volunteers for Children in Need and Comic Relief donation lines, as well as putting on employee sponsored events supporting a number of local charities.

Autoglass® is also a voice for change. In association with the road safety charity Brake, it is helping to drive down the number of road crashes caused by poor visibility by highlighting the importance of a clean and safe windscreen. In March this year they launched a three week initiative to give away free Bosch wipers with windscreen repair and replacement services, raising awareness of the dangers of ill-fitting, worn or faulty wipers.

There are many reasons for the success of Autoglass, but I couldn’t help but feel, while sitting in the contact centre and talking to the team, a highly charged flow of togetherness that pulses through the business. Bill knows how important it is to keep this momentum going and realizes that the customer journey is a continually changing one. He knows that they can’t rest on their laurels and is continually looking for new ways to inspire and motivate his team. But you just need to spend a few hours there to see that the people, culture and community spirit are very much self-motivating and all contribute to improve employee well-being and drive a sense of value and pride in the company.

While Bill admits that they still have some work to do to consistently deliver a great customer experience, he can see the road ahead, has great faith in his traveling companions and has a clear vision of where they’re going and how to get there.

I’d certainly put my chips on him, and the rest of the team, loading up the van and delivering the goods, especially on those dark and stormy nights.