Previous entrants for the Service Excellence Awards who have made great progress either through a quantum leap or more gradual change are recognised by the Learning Organisation Award, sponsored by Cranfield School of Management. Over the past year under the direction of its new chief executive James Crosby, the retail network of the Halifax bank has progressed dramatically. In awarding the Halifax first place in this category the judges commented on the new culture of the organisation and cited Crosby's important role as the driving force for change.
No one at the Halifax is left guessing about the company's values. Known as 'The Halifax Way', the mission is 'Delight the Customer - Support Each Other - Do It Superbly'. Finding the means to delight 20 million customers individually with only 25,000 employees may have proved difficult in the past, but the recent cultural shift makes achieving delight a less impossible goal.
'A key element in this new culture among staff is a willingness to take an ever more flexible approach to the differing needs of highly varied customers,' according to Jane Pridgeon, general manager, retail sales.
The Halifax staff whom the judges encountered were, they remarked, 'keen, highly motivated, participative and not waiting in the wings for the direction of superiors'.
Several company-wide initiatives underpin the Halifax's recent progress.
The customer relations department has been encouraged to take a more proactive approach to customer complaints and their resolution. Dissatisfied customers are now surveyed on how well their complaint was handled and the results are used to improve the system. A new department is now dedicated to examining existing processes and procedures.
In an effort to increase flexibility the Halifax employs an 'early warning system', gathering weekly feedback from a number of branches across the country. By testing early reaction to products and services, any initiatives which fail to meet customer requirements can be changed quickly.
The cornerstone of the Halifax's new approach to customers has been the roll-out of a 'Delivering Customer Focus' programme to all customer-facing staff in the retail network - the programme has played an important role in energising employees and developing their attention on and interest in the customer. Last year the programme focused on creating a vision at branch level of what excellent service is and how to achieve it.
The 'Executive Customer Focus' programme is helping to improve the Halifax's reputation with potential customers. In the past, visits by senior managers to the branches were felt to provide little more than encouragement. Now, senior managers focus on specific comments from staff and customers, which are then fed back to HQ. On a monthly basis, Crosby chairs a session to consider the major issues. A report is then written about how each issue can be resolved.
Continuous improvement - the mantra of all learning organisations - was much in evidence among the other three finalists in the Learning Organisation Award category: Camelot Group, the Cheshire Division of the Riverside Housing Association, a registered charity, and the West Bromwich Building Society. Since first entering these awards in 1997, the Riverside Housing Association's Cheshire Division has produced a steady stream of improvements including the recent introduction of a 24-hour, 365-days-a-year, Customer Service Centre. The 150 year old West Bromwich Building Society has improved steadily over the past four years and now offers efficient customer service based on both tradition and innovation. All four organisations have adopted a different approach to excellent service and share a commitment to making it happen.
- Obtain feedback from customers on complaint-handling procedures
- Be flexible in meeting customers' needs
- Give employees authority to resolve complaints
- Revamp staff suggestion schemes to bolster ideas
- Review performance against all major competitors.