Back in July 2010, Sainsbury’s announced that it was scrapping the HR Director role and creating instead a single role that would encapsulate HR and Customer services. The new Customer Services & Colleague Director, in addition to having one of the longest business cards, would take responsibility for HR, customer services, sponsorship, corporate responsibility, and both corporate and internal communications. A huge role then, and massive undertaking that was described by Gwyn Burr, who was promoted from the role of customer service director, as “an opportunity for HR to become much more focused on strategic delivery”.
So, fast forward 30 months to the announcement that Burr will leave Sainsburys in March 2013 and that Angie Risley, current Lloyds Bank Group HRD will take over as Sainsbury’s Group HRD. It was clear from this announcement that this also signifies a demerger of the customer service and HR roles so should we conclude that the initiative failed?
It was only in 2004 that Sainsbury’s first created the position of Customer Service Director with Justin King, then and still CEO, bringing in ex-Asda colleague Gwyn Burr to the role. At the time he felt the customer service needed to be improved dramatically and although Burr sat on the Board she remained a contractor. She also held, and continues to hold, a number of non-Executive Director roles and whilst this isn’t unusual for board members perhaps in this case it indicates that the move was always temporary.
Certainly Sainsbury’s customer service has improved and they have now moved ahead of their rivals. With various initiatives over the past few years the retailer has tackled the causes of poor customer service with training and technology initiatives as well as better use of the web and the introduction of Click-and-Collect, which has been rolled out to more than 900 stores.
The evidence would suggest that we shouldn’t read into this latest announcement that the HR/Customer Service mash-up initiative has failed. Perhaps the greater focus on strategic delivery has worked and now Sainsbury’s is simply putting in place an organization structure that will keep it moving. We will certainly be watching with interest.
The UK Customer Experience Awards took place yesterday at a very large, very new hotel by Heathrow Terminal 5. So large and new is the Sofitel that some of the staff were struggling to offer directions. Heather Small was the celebrity in attendance and spoke passionately about her work with Barnado’s, the children’s charity she has supported for the past two years.
I was judging the utilities category and by all accounts got lucky, as my fellow judges in other categories had not enjoyed the high quality and interesting submissions I reviewed. The winner in this category was Ovo, an energy supplier that only has 40,000 customers, but this far exceeded their target of 8,000 and although they were honest enough to admit that competitive pricing had played it’s part, it was easy to see why customers would flock to this brand.
Ovo’s business is built upon a principle of being trusted by customers, something the founder believed was missing in the industry. It was interesting listening to the special investigations unit at EON talking about the issues the industry faces that are not of the current owners making. I hadn’t realised that before privatisation, different regions installed different meters. This meant that only one company would have engineers familiar with a specific meter and so now that we can choose our energy provider, it is possible that they do not have the skills to support the equipment in our homes and businesses. buying skills in from a competitor is not a recipe for good customer experience.
In spite of the difficulties in the industry, what set Ovo apart was that customer centricity drives the entire business. They are not about one department, with exceptional individuals delivering a great service, they are about customer insight driven decision making and empowered employees from top to bottom. This distinction is what separated the category I judged, and came through throughout the day.
The UK Customer Experience Awards are only two years old and are trying to establish a wider picture than just customer service awards. However, the room was dominated by customer service people, so much so that even our host, Don Hales had to correct himself after uttering “service” after “customer” instead of experience. But the motivation is right and if organisations Can be encouraged to consider how service supports the experience customers have then the transition period is worthwhile.
This week’s People Management magazine, the HR magazine of CIPD, featured an interview with Gwyn Burr, Sainsbury’s “Customer Service and Colleague Director” in which she described the changes t the organisation since she undertook the combined role in July 2010. The role was designed by Sainsbury’s CEO Justin King specifically so that Burr could “maximise her experience and personal strengths” and I wonder if it is due to an even wider opportunity that he has seen.
Many of the areas that Burr speaks about in the interview concern her commercial skills and how these are being leveraged into HR. There is also reference to customer focussed activities that are being repurposed for colleague initiatives and mention of touch-points with customers. If the move was born of pragmatism and promoting a talented individual only I would be surprised because I think it could be an inspired decision that takes HR in a direction I have long thought it should go – Customer Experience.
So much of customer experience excellence is about the strategy surrounding and the management of the touch-points that exist between organisations and their customers. Many of these touch-points are at the mercy of individuals within the organisation who are both expensive, compared to self-service, and unpredictable. What better way to align HR strategy with customer strategy than by bringing the two together?
I attended an event recently where research was presented by Gallup that highlighted the relationship between employee engagement and customer engagement. Organisations that had either only good customer or employee engagement performed at about the same level but those that had both out-performed the others by a factor of 2:1 (or thereabouts). That might seem obvious but what was interesting was that companies that had neither good customer engagement nor employee engagement performed better than those with only good performance in one area – customer or employee engagement.
Sainsbury’s has just focussed on customer services and HR at this stage but I wonder whether they will go further and widen the responsibilities if the initiative is a success? Should they or is there the potential for stripping some of the primary value away from marketing? I’d be interested in views on this.
This was just one of the many statistics provided to call centre operatives by Tim Bishop, Head of Strategy for programme and awards sponsor Siemens at last nights gala dinner and awards ceremony for the ‘Top 50 Call Centres‘. The evening celebrated customer service excellence and the atmosphere from the outset was palpable. The screen behind the stage rotated the logos of the top 50 companies, and there was a cheer from each group every time their logo appeared. The auditory Mexican wave was something to behold and went on throughout the dinner until the awards ceremony proper began. After an hour or so of continued, and increasingly enthusiastic cheering, I began to realise how little positive recognition the call centre operatives receive and also how competitive they are.
Eamonn Holmes hosted the evening and presented the awards and was an excellent speaker. He particularly enjoyed congratulating the team of nine very attractive ladies and one ‘fella’ from Holiday Extras who won the best overall in the Entertainment, Leisure and Travel category. He even took the trouble to visit their table after the awards had ended and congratulate them personally. What a martyr!
The awards are the brain child of Claudia Hathway, Editor of CCF magazine who opened the event with a rousing speech about how call centre operatives were unrecognised for the good work they do. She set a challenge for all companies to achieve an average of 95% satisfaction next year, which looks like a tough target if you ignore how competitive these people are. The data was pulled together by mystery shopping partner GFK NOP who carried out the biggest ever survey of its kind gathering real customer experience data based on real consumer feedback. And the competition was very close with only 1 1/2% separating the top 5 call centres.
So finally, here are the winners:
1st was First Direct, who were also 1st in the Financial Services category. They achieved an overall satisfaction score of 91.73%.
Denplan were narrowly beaten into second place with 91.32%
3rd was F&C Investments with 91.26%
4th overall was Lloyds TSB Insurance with 91.02%
5th and also best in the retail category was Laithwaites with 90.36%
6th Prudential with 89.33%
7th with 89.29% Charles Tyrwhitt
8th ING Direct with 87.89%
9th was Specsavers with 87.57%
10th and also winners in the public sector category were Cambridgeshire County Council with a customer service rating of 87.13%
Holiday Extras won the best in Entertainment/Leisure and Travel category with a rating of 85%
Given our recent study in to the travel sector the low overall score and lowest category score is of no surprise and clearly, for all the celebrating last night, this sector has a lot to do.