Once, the Man from the Pru was the face of an organisation synonymous with sensible saving and security. Today, that face is far more complex, with call centres throughout the British Isles and India, and technology as the driving force in handling ever more complex issues of administration.
With offices in Stirling, Reading, Belfast and Mumbai, the Prudential's customer services division employs some 3,500 people, looking after customers from the moment they buy a policy until its maturity or surrender. When customers contact the firm, it is likely to be significant - perhaps when somebody has been made redundant, has retired, divorced or died. And with 8.9 million of them, staff deal with 300,000 calls and 450,000 paper transactions every month.
Prudential has embarked on a far-reaching transformation in the past three years, launched as part of a 1,000-day plan intended to change the business to meet the needs of customers and the market. It has seen some dramatic steps: setting up the operation in Mumbai; migrating work across three UK sites; and introducing a new administration system - 4Front - to simplify its view of customers and their policies by providing one platform for more than 1,000 products.
A range of measures have improved the service that individual customers receive. Four years ago, Prudential customers could ring 518 phone numbers; by June this had been cut to 39, and by the end of the year it will be four. The Pru has abolished all automated answering and introduced a Queue-Buster system for its IFA call centre. Financial advisers who call can opt for a callback, which keeps their place in the queue but lets them get on with other things.
A retention centre has been set up to identify customers about to move their account and persuade them to change their mind. For endowment customers wishing to surrender their policy, Prudential has set up a Diamond Trading service that enables them to sell their policy into the secondhand market, potentially getting a better return. Why Do We Do That days are hosted at the call centres, in which suggestions are shared and the customer experience examined for possible improvements.
Prudential surveys new customers when they receive their welcome pack, and existing customers are invited to give feedback at the end of their phone call. Overall, some 67% of them said they were 'very satisfied' with the company's service at the latest count; individual scores are fed back to agents in the call centres. The company adopts other best practice: it has a dedicated 'issues' team that follows up customers who leave negative comments, for example.
The company also holds MeetPru sessions, where customers can meet the board members; it runs a PruBus, which tours to host focus groups; a customer management board helps to shape new product offerings, and a specialised customer relations unit deals with complaints.
Customer developments have gone hand-in-hand with making the Pru a better place to work. There's a strong focus on development, with a nine-week induction period, encouragement to take the Institute of Customer Services qualifications, and dedicated learning centres. Staff even get an additional day off each year for their own financial planning. To find out how it could be even better, the Pru has commissioned Loughborough University to survey its staff.
The firm is set to embark on its second 1,000-day plan. Says customer delivery director Oke Eleazu: 'We've already been through massive change, but there's much more to come for an organisation like this. Once you've started, you can't just turn back.'