Service Excellence Awards 2005: Winner - Retail & Consumer Services - RAC PLC, Roadside

Every seven seconds, somebody calls the RAC. They are usually in distress, stranded at the side of the road and worried about completing their journey. 'When you have broken down, your life stops,' says the organisation's operations director, Nigel Paget. 'Our priority is to get the right person there quickly.'

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

RAC Roadside is the UK's second-largest roadside assistance organisation, with 8 million members, but its commitment to providing the very best service - in handling breakdown calls, dispatch to the scene, speedy diagnosis and repairs - is second to none.

Breakdown calls are received at contact centres in Walsall, Manchester and Glasgow, then distributed to 1,500 patrols around the country. This is supported by a state-of-the-art, £7 million Intelligent Computer Aided Dispatch (iCAD) system. From the time a motorist calls the RAC to the moment they continue their journey takes an average of just 64 minutes.

Good service in this context means many things: identifying swiftly where the motorist is; providing a reliable estimate of the patrol's arrival time (achieved 86% of the time); and having the technical expertise to diagnose just about any problem.

RAC patrols are equipped with the latest technology to pull this off: on-board screens with the same customer view as the contact centre, and satellite navigation and diagnostics systems that can hitch up to the customer's motor. Some 1,300 patrols are now armed with a rapid deployment trailer for towing.

It's the people who deliver the service that make the difference, though.

Being an RAC patrolman is more of a vocation than a career. In many parts of the country, there are long waiting lists of would-be patrols - one vacancy in Milton Keynes last year attracted 600 applicants.

It's not highly paid, but RAC Roadside attracts people who really want to serve the public - some 700 work voluntarily on Christmas Day. The recruitment process for the role involves a whole-day assessment. 'We're looking for people who can establish a rapport with our customers and can deal with customers in distress situations,' says Paget.

RAC believes strongly in the value of role models - all its lead patrols and trainers started off as regular patrols, and 70% of senior management joined in operational roles. The people in the call centre also understand the value of what they do, and in a staff survey, 84% said they were satisfied with their job.

'Shadowing' is widely practised within the RAC: patrols start their induction with a day in the call centre, while managers spend a significant number of days out with patrols. An innovative radio magazine, Call Signal 124, keeps those on the road in touch.

Every year, the top 50 patrols and the top 15 operations-centre people are invited to the Ambassador awards. Overall winners in each category are rewarded with a luxury holiday anywhere in the world.

RAC Roadside collects feedback from customers to validate that it is doing a good job. Last year, nearly 25% of the 2.6 million members who called for assistance filled out a customer satisfaction card; some 57.5% of respondents expressed themselves as 'delighted' with the service they'd received. But that wasn't good enough for an organisation keen to get things right. This year, an RAC trial gave customers the chance to provide instant feedback via a handheld PDA; response rates have risen to 78%, giving each patrol a much better handle on levels of satisfaction. And a dedicated customer care unit set up to handle complaints has paid rich dividends: 75% of those whose complaint has been handled say that they will renew their membership; before, it was 40%.

Customer service provided by the RAC can be vital. A member rang to say they'd broken down on a motorway hard shoulder close to a dangerous junction.

The agent advised the customer to leave the car; moments later it was hit and destroyed by a lorry.

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