Answering the call for great service

For the fifth successive year, the Top 50 Call Centres for Customer Service programme has delivered results, compiled here by Claudia Thorpe and Lara Doyle, showing exceptional achievement by some of the UK’s top-performing organisations

It’s easy to be negative about contact centres – they have had a pretty poor reputation ever since their inception 30 years ago.

But like them or not, contact centres remain an important part of everyday life (imagine queuing in your bank to transfer money or report a lost card) and interactions with organisations need not always be a stressful, drawn-out experience.

Living proof of this are companies which each year make it into the Top 50 Call Centres for Customer Service – an initiative that measures the customer service offered by some of the nation’s best-known brands.

Using criteria defined by customers, interactions are measured on things like how long it took to get through to a human being, how knowledgeable the agent was, whether they were polite and friendly, and whether the customer was sure something would be done about their complaint or query.

And things are getting better, as head of partnerships at the Top 50 Ashley Williamson explains:  “In spite of the unending pressure for companies to meet the seismic challenges of an economic downturn and rising customer expectations, the average performance score for the top 50 call centres has continued to improve and this year reached an amazing 88 per cent, which is a huge 5 per cent greater than in our launch year of 2008.”

Over the next four pages, each of the contact centres that have achieved Top 50 status tell why they are a crucial part of any business that wants to keep customers happy…

Twenty of the best

The top 20 performers in the Top 50 Call Centres for Customer Service programme, along with their overall performance scores, are:

01. Dignity Caring Funeral Services 95.60%

02. Charles Tyrwhitt 95.31%

03. DPD 94.68%

04. The White Company 94.38%

05. heateam 93.69%

06. Royal Mail Door-to-Door  92.93%

07. Charities Aid Foundation 92.87%

08. Nationwide 92.86%

09. General Medical Council 92.45%

10. ASDA 92.42%

11. Best Western Hotels 91.72%

12. Family Mosaic 91.38%

13. BDR Thermea 91.34%

14. DANONE Baby Nutrition 91.30%

15. Auto Windscreens 91.18%

16. Trafford Housing Trust 91.12%

17. ITV 90.86%

18. Coca-Cola Enterprises 90.33%

19. J.P. Morgan Asset Management 90.29%

20. Specsavers Optical Superstores 89.66%

Allianz

Being an insurance provider means that we deal with customers who could be going through a difficult time, so our aim is to make the process as easy as possible. For example, one of our service agents recently helped a customer by not only meeting very tight deadlines on gaining cover for driving abroad, but also translating a document into French for them. A fantastic example of our people responding to customer needs.

BEST IN RETAIL SECTOR

ASDA

Being named best in retail in the Top 50 programme was a tremendous achievement that has been celebrated by the wider business. It has allowed everyone to look at what the contact centre team does, understand why we do it and share in our success. This year we placed considerable focus on our email performance and worked hard to understand customer feedback. We implemented strategies and processes that give us a platform for sustained success and solid foundations on which to build. Fifth place for email service was a fantastic start for us and the team are hungry for more success. It definitely doesn’t stop here.

Auto Windscreens

Auto Windscreens has 76 employees at its contact centre in Chesterfield, Derbyshire. Windscreens are often a distress purchase, with glass damaged through theft or an accident, so it’s imperative our friendly staff are on hand to help solve problems as quickly, calmly and efficiently as possible. We’re a rapidly expanding company and we want to continue to deliver the great level of service our customers have come to expect.

Aviva

Aviva has a number of initiatives lined up to keep improving in terms of customer service, including: continuing to provide skill and knowledge to our people, allowing them to deal with customer demand; continuing to develop online interactions with customers, following them as they change their habits; repatriating all customer-facing work back onshore to Norwich and Bishopbriggs; and more sophisticated interactions with customers, developing skills in identifying how to make each contact more effective.

Barclaycard

Back in 2009 we launched an online social media service. Since then the social media market has exploded and our appetite to connect with customers in this way has grown substantially. The web relations team is now one of the most powerful teams in our contact centre. The team offers an alternative way to interact with us, making lives easier for customers through a relaxed, informal and personal service.

BDR Thermea

It has been so rewarding this year to receive all the positive feedback from our customers who have seen the improvements we have made. Such comments as: “I would like to highlight the vast improvement with your service in recent times – your company has certainly stepped up its game” and “I was most pleased with the response time on the call and the information provided. I spoke with a young lady called Katie who was polite, helpful and knowledgeable.”

BEST IN TRAVEL SERVICES SECTOR

Best Western Hotels

It’s the person not the transaction that drives the success of Best Western. In an industry where electronic communication is becoming the norm, we will maintain and enhance our personalised approach. We are passionate about people and there is a strong “culture of care” throughout the team. We aim to be in a position where each member of our team is financially empowered to enhance and personalise their customer’s experience by listening to their individual stories and adding little touches that surprise and delight, from arranging a free massage for a stressed-out mum, to a pet dog’s favourite bone and water bowl.

Blackhorse Finance

One of our frontline staff, Natasha Harries, has designed and launched a colleague incentive scheme called ACE (Achievement; Commitment to Customer Care; Excellence). The incentive empowers all colleagues to nominate their peers for anything they feel they may have done above and beyond their role. This has created an excellent buzz through the team and led to a stronger commitment to proposing improvement ideas to help us achieve extraordinary customer service.

BEST IN UTILITY SECTOR

British Gas Energy

With energy and focus British Gas has been on a journey to make every call a great call and the experience of our customers nothing short of the first class experience they deserve. We are proud to have invested in the development of our people and made some significant improvements to the service we give to our customers, but we know this is a journey and we are but part way through. We know there is always more we can achieve and we’ll do that by continuing to listen to our customers and by learning from some of the best in the business in the Top 50 programme.

British Gas Services

We employ more than 12,000 staff in our UK-based contact centres and more than 8,000 highly trained, Gas Safe registered engineers, handling around 28 million customer contacts a year. We place the customer at the heart of our values and invest in our staff in order to continuously improve our levels of customer satisfaction. Everything we do is driven by our desire to deliver high-quality products and services, and excellent customer service.

BSkyB

Our contact centres are the voice of Sky. And what a voice. Thousands of brilliant people talking to four million potential and existing customers on the phone every month. Every one of them living and breathing Sky values; making sure all the good things our customers see and hear about us are reflected when they pick up the phone to talk to us. We’re always positive, upbeat and willing to go the extra mile.

Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Trust

Customer service within a hospital environment is unique. Each and every call is different and we regularly deal with people who are anxious, upset or really needing our help. We work hard to ensure every call counts, from the first to the 400th of the day and, as our team all live in the local community, they try to provide the service they would want to receive if they were patients or visitors themselves.

CPP Group

CPP Group (CPP) has more than 30 years’ experience in helping our customers cope with the complexities and anxieties of modern life. Our award-winning contact centres manage thousands of queries each day when our dedicated team helps customers to cope and overcome card and mobile phone loss as well as identity fraud. We are also here to help with home emergencies, legal disputes and even provide access to airport lounges worldwide.

Care Quality Commission

Our job is to make sure the care provided by hospitals, dentists, ambulances, care homes and home-care agencies meet government standards of quality and safety. We work with our customers to continually review our service, seeking out their feedback and understanding where we can improve their experience and respond to their needs. We hope that, through our partnership with the Top 50 programme, we can invest further in our staff and empower them to serve our customers.

Charities Aid Foundation

CAF is the charity dedicated to getting the best for other charities and their donors. We have undergone an extensive programme of change over the last 18 months, focused around the customer experience. A key part of this change was to ask the teams what they considered as their personal mission and they decided upon: “We can, we do, we care”, summing up perfectly how we approach all customer contact.

BEST IN E-RETAIL SECTOR

Charles Tyrwhitt

Our passion for customer service is encapsulated in our founder and chairman Nick Wheeler’s motto: “You build or lose a business in exactly the same way, one customer at a time”. Our customer service team can be contacted 24/7 by phone, email and webchat. Customer comments are posted unedited on our website, and we listen to our customers, learn from what they say and continuously improve.

Churchill Home Insurance

Giving excellent service to our customers is what we thrive on. All our operations are designed to deliver the right outcome for our customers, ensuring we treat them fairly. Our vision is to be Britain’s best and this means being the best for our customers. We are looking to understand our results from the Top 50 programme, and see what short and long-term goals we should set ourselves.

Coca-Cola Enterprises

The Coca-Cola contact centre at Peterborough has 130 staff and the company has recently implemented a quarterly employee engagement survey, ensuring any employee feedback is acted upon. We recently completed a major refurbishment of our offices, designed to improve the quality of the working environment, and develop building infrastructure and technology capabilities. Our workforce is highly engaged as a result of our efforts; 15 members of the team recently celebrated 20 years with the company.

Daisy Wholesale

Daisy Wholesale delivers a communication portfolio encompassing voice (calls, numbers and line rental), data (broadband, Ethernet and virtual private networks), mobile services and managed billing solutions to businesses. Providing the best service to our customers is paramount, which is why we have developed a Customer Service Plan (CSP) – a live document, which supports our business partners in every element of service delivery from the first order to detailed escalation.

DANONE Baby Nutrition

We offer 24/7 customer service by phone for our Aptamil and Cow & Gate brands, as well as email and livechat services during the day. All our services are delivered by a range of trained advisers and experts, from baby care advisers and mums, through ex-midwives, to a team of practising midwives. One of the most amazing experiences we’ve had was supporting a mum during a home birth, thanks to one of our on-site midwives.

TOP PERFORMER AND

BEST IN INSURANCE/FINANCIAL SERVICES SECTOR

Dignity Caring Funeral Services

We understand the responsibility that is placed upon us when a family entrusts us with the funeral of a loved one or buys a funeral plan from us. We understand that getting every detail right is critical. But it isn’t just the details, it is the compassion, respect and care shown by our staff that really sets us apart. We have always answered contacts from clients very quickly, but we were delighted to improve our scores for providing a personal and knowledgeable service. To be the best performer in the Top 50, particularly when competing against some of the UK’s most recognised brands, is a source of great pride for us.

BEST IN SERVICE PROVIDERS SECTOR

DPD

Our employees are driven by a “be amazing” ethos and we’re delighted to say that we have a team who take immense personal pride in their work. We’ll continue to invest in our contact centres and continue to develop our employees through specially tailored training programmes. But customer service is important to us across the entire business, not just in the contact centre, and delivering amazing service is the goal that underpins everything that we do.

Family Mosaic

At affordable housing provider Family Mosaic, we didn’t just want a contact centre; we wanted to provide a personalised service where staff make a positive difference to our customers’ lives. Our service is not about selling a product, it is about supporting people to live in a comfortable home and get on with their day-to-day lives. We ask our customer care line staff to look beyond simply providing an answer to a question and respond to wider customer needs.

FedEx Express

Colin Groves, senior customer services manager of FedEx in the UK, says: “Customer service means getting it right first time, understanding where you are making mistakes and recovering from these well. Good customer service is delivered by having the right talent, robust processes and rewarding best practice. My vision is to clearly understand market trends and anticipate our next generation of customers. Our strategy to engage in social media is an example of that.”

BEST IN PUBLIC SECTOR

General Medical Council

The job of the GMC is to protect patients. Where any doctor fails to meet the standards demanded of them by the public, we act to protect patients from harm. Being a part of the Top 50 programme has helped us improve our customer services year on year. The competition element is great fun and the accolades are fantastic. But the bottom line is that we know we are giving excellent service to all those who need help or advice from the General Medical Council and this compares favourably with some of the top organisations across all sectors in the UK.

heateam

heateam was delighted to receive a score of 100 per cent in the “easy to use” category of the Top 50 programme, which measures how effectively the team deals with customer inquiries. The team was also rated as 98 per cent reliable, giving confidence to customers that they will do what they say with no false promises. This reflects the company’s ongoing commitment to quality training, enabling agents to deal with more than one million customer contacts a year.

Hillarys Blinds

Hillarys wants to offer the best possible experience to all customers in every contact we have with them. Regrettably, sometimes things do not go exactly to plan, but our commitment to outstanding customer service means we will do everything we can to ensure that resolving a query first time is an absolute priority. We want to continue improving our service so we can give our customers what they want, when they want it and in the way that they choose to interact with us.

BEST IN TELECOMS AND MEDIA SECTOR

ITV

Controller of viewer services Steve Morris says: “I am exceptionally proud of how the viewer services managers have promoted understanding across the team by interpreting the areas of improvement into measurable objectives. The whole team has gone the extra mile in ensuring we deliver a premium level of service. This has enabled us to improve our overall placing by a massive 18 points and helped us to maintain our best in category position for the second year in succession. I am humbled, honoured and proud to work with a team which is dedicated to improving the way we manage ITV consumer inquiries.”

J.P. Morgan Asset Management

For J.P. Morgan Asset Management, the service teams represent the voice of the client. Raising and passing on client feedback is central to the client services job description. We have created service excellence forums for this feedback to be monitored. These forums are attended by senior management on a monthly basis and are used to discuss how to improve our processes, and any other new ideas put forward by the team.

KC Contact Centres for Hull City Council

When you ring a contact centre the last thing you want is to talk to someone who sounds like they can’t be bothered. We encourage our people to give customers the kind of experience they want when they ring a contact centre themselves. That means employing people who have a natural ability to listen and empathise, training them to a high standard and empowering them to give a fantastic experience.

Kent County Council

Our advisers understand that every contact is valuable to the organisation, and are always helpful and friendly. Rather than scripted responses, advisers are trained to a deeper level in a variety of services so that they are able to tailor responses to individual requests and needs. Advisers are highly knowledgeable and keen to go the extra mile to ensure all customers’ inquiries are answered in the initial contact.

The Laterooms Group

This summer the contact centre launched the “voice of the customer programme”, putting the customer experience at the heart of everything we do. Removing traditional performance measures and replacing them with one measure – quality of service – has allowed us to really see things through our customers’ eyes. We are dedicated to improving our business based on customer feedback, using investment in training and development of staff, as well as improving our product and services.

Lebara Mobile

Our purpose is to make lives better for our customers, communities and employees. An example of this is a recent interaction, when a customer explained he was having difficulties arranging a visa for his fiancée. The adviser was able to provide him with relevant information needed to speed up the process, which led to the visa being granted and the customer being reunited with his fiancée much more quickly than envisaged.

Met Office

Our advisers are multi-skilled to answer every type of inquiry we receive. These range from the general public asking for weather forecasts for up to five days ahead, commercial organisations requesting historical weather data and media inquiries from the world’s press. This unique capability means the customer does not get passed between departments; their inquiry will be dealt with during just one contact with the weather desk, regardless of the type of query.

BEST IN BANKING SECTOR

Nationwide

As a mutual with no shareholders to pay dividends to, we recognise the importance that culture has on service and experience. Nationwide will continue to provide our customers with mutually rewarding relationships, where long-term value and service is at the heart of everything we do. As a result of this service ethos, our complaint levels this year were 56 per cent lower than in 2010.  Despite our size and scale, Nationwide accounts for only 1.5 per cent of total industry complaints. We are proud that our customer service performance has been maintained this year and we are rated number-one banking company on the high street for customer satisfaction.

Phones4U

We empower all our people to make sure that our customers are treated as individuals. The key to this is building rapport and listening. The art of listening is looking for anchors that show we understand and empathise. Great customer service is about ensuring that our customers feel they’ve been listened to, and are able to enjoy and get the most out of their mobile phones.

Photobox

Our small but highly dedicated in-house customer support team handles more than 250,000 contacts a year via email, phone and livechat. More than 8.5 million members trust us with their photos every day. Because of this we make every effort to listen to what they have to say through traditional contact methods, such as the telephone and email, as well as our blogs, Facebook and Twitter pages, and regular surveys.

The RBS Group

Great service is about listening and delivering the experience customers want. Mark Smith, managing director of RBS customer contact, says: “Helpful and friendly service is important to customers, however they bank with us. This year we’ve resolved 99 per cent of our customers’ inquiries first time – more than any other large centre in the Top 50 programme. This shows our commitment to ensure every interaction customers have with us is great.”

Royal Borough of Kingston

We have created our contact centre with the sole purpose of delivering the best service possible to our customers. We strongly believe that by creating a contact centre with teamwork, passion and dedication at its heart, we can deliver an exceptional customer service experience for our residents and achieve our vision of being recognised as one of the top- performing customer contact teams in the country.

Royal Mail Door-to-Door

The Door-to-Door (D2D) service offers its customers a way of delivering successful advertising campaigns through its unaddressed leaflet distribution service. The D2D team takes every opportunity to have positive, knowledgeable and responsive conversations with customers, wherever they are in the purchasing journey. The team have differentiated themselves by consistently improving customer access, response times, and the quality of conversations, thus creating a relationship based on trust and commitment with our customer base.

RS Components

RS Components is the trading brand of Electrocomponents plc, the world’s leading high-service distributor of electronics and maintenance products. We offer more than 550,000 products through the internet, catalogues and at trade counters to over one million customers, shipping around 44,000 parcels a day. Our 300 UK contact centre agents handle more than 4,000 calls and nearly 500 online chats each day, with specialist teams managing technical pre and post-support inquiries.

ScottishPower

ScottishPower meets the daily challenge of serving a diverse customer base while maintaining excellence in customer experience and employee engagement. Customers are at the heart of everything we do and the voice of the customer is important to us. We value the feedback obtained through the Top 50 Call Centres for Customer Service, as we continuously strive to deliver the highest standards of customer service via our engaged and motivated people.

Scottish Widows

Our aim is to be the best bank for customers – and the best for our colleagues, communities, and shareholders too. Our “making every conversation count” initiative is our way of ensuring that our colleagues never forget they are dealing with a person and they can make a real difference to an individual customer’s needs. Investing in our colleagues is integral to our success and ultimately benefits customer satisfaction by exceeding expectations whenever possible.

Specsavers Optical Superstores

There is a very relaxed and friendly culture at Specsavers. One of our core values is simply to treat people how we would like to be treated ourselves, and this ethic is prominent among employees, as well as between our company and our customers. Specsavers also offers excellent career progression opportunities and generous reward packages for employees, including quarterly bonus payments, a great pension scheme, health insurance, and sports and social activities.

Towergate Insurance Leisure Division

We encourage conversations to ensure the query is answered in a single call rather than serving the customer as quickly as we can to get on to the next one. We have a culture of personal responsibility and trust. In other words, we trust our people to make the right choices for the customer, and create responsibility by taking the time to show and train our people to understand our customers’ journeys.

Trafford Housing Trust

We operate through one phone number for all services, enabling customers to contact us with ease, safe in the knowledge that the person who answers their call will be committed to providing excellent customer service. Our staff have an extensive knowledge and are able to resolve queries at first point of contact on services such as rent payments, anti-social behaviour, tenancy management, repairs, regeneration and many more services that we provide.

Transport for London

In recent years we have been through a period of unprecedented change, ranging from doubling the size of the Oyster (smart card) network, delivering new trains and signalling on the Underground, and championing environmental issues by launching new hydrogen fuel cell buses. Customer service is something which runs through all levels of our business, from the agents answering customer calls and correspondence to Shashi Verma, our customer experience director.

Virgin Atlantic

Customer service is about capturing the emotion of the call, and managing the customer first and the situation second. Virgin Atlantic customers have very high expectations, and our staff are recruited and trained to deliver these “brilliant basics” to meet expectations and add “magic touches” to exceed these expectations. We take pride in the staff we recruit and train, and in return the staff are committed and focused to deliver a good customer experience.

The White Company

We encourage our customer service teams to offer a personal shopping experience for our customers. We want our customers to have the benefit of a unique shopping experience, whenever they want, however they chose. We invest time in coaching and nurturing our people constantly, and help them to shine. We empower staff by giving them the information and the confidence they need to make the right decisions.

Wokingham Borough Council

Delivering customer service for a local authority is always challenging as we deal with more than 200 different services. Inquiries coming into the contact centre could range from an elderly person needing social care to registering a birth and then dealing with an irate customer whose rubbish has not been collected. We know that every inquiry is important to that customer, so we try to make their experience a unique and positive one.