UK: 1996 MANAGEMENT TODAY UNISYS SERVICE EXCELLENCE AWARDS.

UK: 1996 MANAGEMENT TODAY UNISYS SERVICE EXCELLENCE AWARDS. - Winner, Business-to-Business Category - TNT Express (UK).

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Winner, Business-to-Business Category - TNT Express (UK).

Concern about customers runs through TNT Express (UK) like the lettering in a stick of rock. 'Service is our only product,' shouts the company mission statement from every wall. A 'Committed To Customer Care' logo leaps out of every item of corporate literature. There's no doubt who is supposed to be king at TNT. 'The business is driven by our focus on the customer,' declares Tom Bell, managing director of TNT Express Delivery Services. 'Everything we do is because of the customer.'

Express Delivery Services, the business which introduced guaranteed next-day delivery into the UK, is one of three operating divisions of TNT Express (UK). The others are TNT Newsfast, which handles 55% of Britain's national newspapers (56 million copies weekly) and 54% of consumer magazines, and TNT Logistics, providing supply chain management services to customers such as British Telecom, Ford and Rover Group. The three operations together run 3,000 vehicles from 400 locations, employ 8,000 people, and generate revenues of over £7 million a week. They form part of the TNT Worldwide Transportation Group which operates from 3,000 locations in over 200 countries and has 69,000 employees.

The UK company's customer care initiative was launched three years ago in response to customer satisfaction surveys and independent research.

'We asked customers their reasons for selecting a parcel carrier and found that customer care was rapidly growing in importance,' says Bell. Their replies were incorporated in a 13-point Customer Care Charter which committed the company to the following: to answer incoming telephone calls courteously and within six rings; to connect callers to the members of staff they ask for irrespective of seniority and without requiring them to give name, company or reason for calling; to provide instant confirmation of delivery 24 hours a day via TNT Tracker - an automatic telephone response system; in the event of a claim, to provide a written response within 24 hours, and if necessary to conduct a full investigation to resolve any claim; to investigate and respond to any complaints about the behaviour, attitude or road manners of TNT personnel. 'If someone rings me to complain I know that probably another thousand are out there with the same problem, and that we are probably losing customers,' says Alan Jones, managing director of TNT Express (UK).

The company issues 14,000 customer questionnaires annually, 3,500 per quarter. Based on information thus provided, it has identified 16 areas of operational excellence. Call handling is obviously one. (The call handling system, which deals with up to 40,000 calls a week, is considered the key to customer satisfaction.) Others include speed and reliability of delivery. These days, performance under 27 headings, ranging from cash collection to delivery performance, is published weekly in each depot.

But as sales and marketing director Chris Atkinson points out: 'It's not measurement but what you do with it that counts. We use these performance measures continually to improve the service we provide.'

Independent surveys are conducted twice annually to measure the effect of operational improvements. When the results have been reviewed, depots agree on actions needed to rectify weaknesses. Any failure to deliver on time is classed as a failure even if it was due to the addressee's premises being closed, explains Bell. 'In that way depots cannot hide their failure behind customer failures.' Sometimes parcels are wrongly addressed.

Nevertheless, 'provided there is something written, we now have the technology to check it out and get back to the customer if it appears to be wrong.

So we can explore areas of failure and try to improve.'

TNT has spent £1.3 million communicating its customer care policy, 'Expressing Excellence', internally. The company put on training sessions for employees in small multi-function groups. It used awareness merchandise (posters, coasters, mugs, etc), literature (notably the employee magazine Celebrate), performance league tables and recognition and reward schemes. The entire programme, including the launch of the 13-point Commitment to Customer Care Charter in all depots, was devised and run in-house.

The hub of TNT's UK activities, at Atherstone, Warwickshire, certainly gives an impression of enthusiasm and dedication. 'Wherever you go in the organisation, you will find an attitude we are proud of,' says Bell, adding that the buzz reflects high morale. The company was the first express delivery service to be awarded Investors in People status. Last year it received a European Quality Award prize. It may also be relevant that TNT has a policy of promoting from within. Bell himself began as driver, at Maidstone in the 1970s.

Management recognises exceptional performance via awards, both for depots and for individual employees, and presentations are made throughout the year. The regional 'Customer Care Person of the Quarter' receives a certificate, a bottle of champagne and £250 in cash. Suggestions are encouraged, replied to within 72 hours, and rewarded on an ad hoc basis with gift vouchers.

Employees provide feedback through a 'Talkback' questionnaire issued in Celebrate. Over 80% say that they have gained personally from Expressing Excellence, and that it has encouraged them 'to beat their previous best'.

Earlier this year a second phase of the programme was introduced under the name Expressionism. 'If you let these programmes run too long they lose their impact, so they must be relaunched,' argues Bell. The new programme is intended to equip people with all the necessary skills to get the job done right first time, every time. Atkinson is confident that, 'With this new level of training, staff will all be better equipped to satisfy our customers' needs - and exceed their expectations'.

Tom Bell, chief executive, TNT Express Delivery Services (left) with Chris Atkinson, sales and marketing director. The Customer Care Charter incorporates the results of customer surveys and independent research

KEY BUSINESS LESSONS

- Ask customers what they want: TNT Express is working to reduce telephone answering time from six to three rings in response to customer demand

- Promote from within: TNT's policy of using 'home-grown timber' is highly motivating; it also promotes a thorough knowledge of the business

- Generate company-wide enthusiasm: who is responsible for customer care at TNT Express? Answer: everyone

- Relaunch customer care initiatives: programmes lose their impact with the passage of time.

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