Many people feel jaded when they hear the words ‘customer service’. It conjures up images of never-ending phone calls, listening to repetitive hold music, and speaking to multiple advisers only to have the call transferred back to the beginning of the queue.
That’s not how we treat our customers, and we pride ourselves on putting customers’ needs first. But how do we do it?
We sat down with our Customer Experience Team to find out.
Who joined us (from L-R):
- Bernie Stewart, Head of Customer Experience
- Lesley Barnett, Business Support Manager
- Chris de Souza, Customer Experience Manager
- Jon Rookledge, Technical Claims and Supplier Relationship Manager
- Amanda Padbury, Business Transformation Programme Manager
What does the Customer Experience Team do?
Chris: We’re responsible for looking after our customers. We operate three departments: Sales, Customer Service and Claims, so we are the team that speak with customers whenever they have a question or need help.
Bernie: Customer experience is about providing a safe pair of hands to the customer – no matter when, why, or how they get in touch with us.
For example, we help explain exactly what they are buying and how the policy works, as well as help guide people through the online purchasing process if they’re experiencing difficulties.
Our Customer Services Team help customers through any changes they want to make to their policy, such as a change of address or a change in personal circumstances.
“On the claims side, it could be anything from losing a hearing aid to a major incident.”
Lesley: We also have our Business Support Team who make sure we have enough employees in place to quickly respond to calls and queries. We help our Customer Experience Team reassure customers, giving them the right information and resolving problems upfront. We keep employees up-to-date with legal and regulation changes, and provide specialist training and guidance, for example looking out for vulnerable customers.
Together Mutual is consistently rated highly for customer service. What factors do you think contribute to this?
Bernie: We treat our customers as people, not just numbers, and I think that’s really important. Most often, people say their experience dealing with a team member has been excellent – they couldn’t fault it. They say they were friendly, explained things clearly, and called back when they said they would.
Lesley: As we’re a relatively small company, all of our team know each other and can pass you through to the person you spoke to originally. This means we can offer a much more personal service.
Amanda: When a customer is looking to buy a policy, we explain the facts to them, answer any questions they have and give them all the information they need to make a final decision themselves. Our team members aren’t target-driven and aren’t pushy. We give customers as much time as needed. Often, people don’t want to make a decision straight away; they want to go away and consider it – and that’s fine with us.
Chris: Insurance is a difficult sell because there’s nothing tangible at the end of it and you’re buying a product that you hope to never use. We’re selling peace of mind; a promise that we’ll help you in times of trouble. You don’t want to wait until something happens to find out how good your insurer is going to be, so we provide confidence through all communication.
Jon: We reassure our customers that we’re selling them something they actually need. We don’t want to oversell or undersell, resulting in customers being over- or under-insured. By giving customers the facts, we ensure they’re paying the right premium for the right policy. Then, if the worst does happen, we can give them the help that they need.
How do you achieve consistently high-quality customer service?
Chris: We work on the colleague experience, making sure our team members are happy in what they do and are doing a good job. Colleague experience goes hand in hand with customer experience. Get the colleague experience right and customer experience follows.
Lesley: Together Mutual is a great place to work. Our employee turnover is very low. We care about the people on the end of the phone, email, or web chat. It’s not just about processing the sale or claim.
“It’s putting yourself in the place of the customer and what they’re going through, guiding them, and supporting them through their distressing time.”
Jon: If we put ourselves in our customers’ position and do the best for them, we’re speeding them through the process as well. If we get everyone on board, working towards the same goal, things generally run smoothly. By investing a lot of time in our people and training them well, it makes the customer process smoother and it builds trust.
Customer service is increasingly becoming automated, with recorded messages and chatbots replacing traditional human interactions. Is Together Mutual going to go down this route?
Bernie: We’re continually reviewing what’s out there and not just jumping on the bandwagon. Technology is certainly advancing and artificial intelligence is coming into the insurance market, but it’s about considering whether or not it’s right for our customers.
Lesley: We’re not about cutting costs and corners at the expense of customer experience.
Bernie: And we don’t have to, and that’s the good thing. As a mutual company, we don’t have pressure to provide a dividend for shareholders – we invest any profit back into the business. That makes it much easier for us to make some of those decisions. We don’t have to automate everything.
Jon: While we won’t necessarily jump on the artificial intelligence bandwagon in the way we deliver our customer service, one of the things we’ve got to consider is the “Internet of Things” – gadgets that are connected to the internet and can communicate with each other, such as a CCTV camera linked to a smartphone. This brings new potential risks and may change what our insurance covers, but I don’t think it will change the way we interact with our customers.
What are the biggest challenges in customer service today?
Lesley: Consumers have high expectations, and rightly so. It’s our job to exceed these expectations where we can, but not to over-promise where we can’t. You need to be clear to the customer what they’re signing up to. We provide transparency for our customers, painting a clear picture of what they’re going to get, and what they’re not going to get.
Bernie: It’s important that our technology keeps up with the latest changes and that we offer customers a variety of ways to contact us. We aim to provide a range of options and be flexible enough to react to our customers’ changing needs. At Together Mutual, we’re passionate about providing the service that customers actually want, rather than what is cheapest for us.
Amanda: Over the last 12 months, we’ve started our business transformation programme. Our first major achievement has been revamping our website making it faster, smoother and easier to navigate.
The claims experience is the next focus, and tailoring all of our customer communications – from letters and text messages right through to the introduction of personalised videos.
We’re investing in new technology but there will also be huge investment in our people and their development. All of this will improve and enhance the service we can offer our customers.