2002 SERVICE EXCELLENCE AWARDS: Overall winner - Nationwide Building Society and winner, financial services

2002 SERVICE EXCELLENCE AWARDS: Overall winner - Nationwide Building Society and winner, financial services - Not every financial services organisation springs to mind as a champion of customer service. But Nationwide Building Society is so clearly focuse

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Not every financial services organisation springs to mind as a champion of customer service. But Nationwide Building Society is so clearly focused on its customers in everything it does that it was a clear winner of not just its own category but of the overall awards, too.

Since winning the Financial Services award two years ago, the country's largest building society has sharpened its approach, learning from the feedback and becoming even more passionate about equipping its 13,000 staff to deliver exemplary service to its 10.5 million customers - who are also, thanks to Nationwide's mutual status, its members.

Indeed, like the Yorkshire Building Society, which also featured strongly in this year's awards, the Nationwide believes that remaining mutual offers a real boost to customer service, since the whole focus of the business is returning value to members rather than satisfying outside shareholders. The organisation says that over the past five years it has returned more than pounds 1.4 billion in value through better rates and fewer charges.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, but still remarkably in this industry, 91% of customers said they were either very satisfied or satisfied with the service, with 68% of active customers recommending the organisation to others.

Nationwide has recently attracted adverse press comment over the departure of former chief executive Brian Davis in the wake of a mortgage strategy that started a price war. But it insists its longer-term policy will be vindicated.

In the meantime, Philip Williamson, chief executive since January, is instilling a new sense of energy into an organisation that had already acquired a formidable reputation as one of Britain's best places to work. One of his key aims is to make Nationwide employees' friends and neighbours jealous of their jobs. 'We want to be such a good employer that we haven't got any vacancies,' he says. As part of making this happen, he has dedicated resources to finding out what the business has to do to improve employee retention.

Not that it is all altruism. To Williamson, a long-time champion of service excellence, the link between employee satisfaction and performance is clear. In his view, having top-class people is as essential to delivering world-class customer service as having slick processes and the best products.

In order to bring this to life, the business has created an in-house video that is shown to all staff and builds on the theme of PRIDE. The letters stand for Putting members first, Rising to the challenge, Inspiring confidence, Delivering best value and Exceeding expectations.

As part of an effort to ensure that all its initiatives fit this theme, the acronym has also been used in advertisements centring on its sponsorship of the England football team.

But Nationwide would not have won if it were just about creating a pleasant place to work and dreaming up clever slogans. The judges were also impressed by the extensive work it has done in other areas, particularly in finding out what its staff and customers think. It was felt that the business was particularly strong in collecting, analysing and acting on customer and employee feedback. The setting up of a 'usability centre', where trained staff can observe and assess customers' reactions to new literature or technology designed to be used in branches, is an especially impressive initiative and a sign of the lengths to which the organisation will go to discover and serve customer requirements.

But, then, as Williamson says: 'We're passionate about this. If we do these things, the members will love us.'

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