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How we achieved record customer satisfaction scores – while being fully remote

6-minute read

Bea Montoya

Bea Montoya

29 March 2021

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As a customer-centric business, our priority is to be there for our customers when they need us most. It’s not only part of our strategy, it runs deep in our DNA.

So, with last week marking a year since the start of the first lockdown, we’re celebrating the people who have helped our customers through the most challenging of years.

Despite every Simply Business employee working fully remotely over the last 12 months, customers have felt more satisfied than ever with the service they’ve been receiving from our team.

We’re proud to have averaged customer satisfaction scores of 96.5 per cent for all teams throughout 2020 – meaning that over 96 per cent of customers who interacted with us were either 'satisfied' or 'very satisfied'.

So, how have we done it?

The background – we’re a customer-centric business

Simply Business started back in the mid-2000s because it was clear the UK’s small business owners and landlords would benefit from a simpler, better way to find and buy insurance to protect their livelihoods. The process at that point wasn’t quick, it wasn’t transparent, and it didn’t make the best use of emerging online technology.

So, we used this technology to build a simple and fast way for our customers to choose the right insurance for their business or property.

Today, we have almost 800,000 customers. And while lots of customers enjoy the speed of buying online, almost half want to talk to our team about their business and what they need from their insurance.

This means that our customer-service team in Northampton (the Northampton contact centre, or NCC) is a key pillar of the experience we give to customers. Phone lines are open six days a week – our consultants are on the frontline, helping a diverse range of small business owners, landlords and the self-employed.

The crisis – customers needed help in the toughest of circumstances

But a year ago, the pandemic hit properly and the UK entered its first lockdown. Our customers needed help more than ever, with many feeling the effects of the shutdown severely.

As a technology-focused business, and as a result of years of technology investment and testing, we were uniquely placed to adapt to a remote-only world – and to have no break in helping our customers.

Our entire operation moved fully remote within 24 hours. This included our customer service teams, who suddenly found themselves taking calls from kitchen desks, bedrooms, and makeshift home offices.

This needed some immediate work behind-the-scenes. Our BizOps (IT support) team worked hard to upgrade the VPN (virtual private network), as well as other systems, to enable a fully remote business while keeping cyber safety intact.

But largely, this turnaround was only possible because all of our technology was in the cloud already. Working from home and working flexibly was already deeply embedded in our business, with groundbreaking trials on when and where our people work.

That’s also true for our consultants. We tested working from home for our Northampton team in 2019, and subsequently rolled it out to those who wanted the option, one or two days a week. All of our consultants work from portable Chromebooks (and other employees work from Windows and Apple laptops).

We empowered our employees to support our customers

After going remote so efficiently, we were able to focus on how exactly we were going to support our customers.

Firstly, our frontline phone team had a number of measures available to help customers in difficulty, including:

  • if customers were suffering reduced business because of coronavirus, our team could offer them a support payment from our hardship fund
  • we removed policy change fees
  • we offered customers a payment holiday if they were struggling to make their monthly instalments

And being technology-focused, we made digital changes to make it easier for customers to find support, including:

  • updating our interactive voice response (IVR), automatically guiding customers to the appropriate information when they call in
  • improving online self-service for customers, giving them a simple way to find documents and check what they’re covered for
  • creating a coronavirus support hub, directing customers to financial support available from the government and other sources

We also used technology to drive effectiveness in our contact centre, experimenting with gamification to keep our team motivated and having great conversations with customers. We used machine learning across a number of areas, including quality assessment and supporting our consultants with any questions they had.

We also supported our people

Even though we made the switch to remote working quickly as a business, we recognised that our employees would need much more time to adapt.

For example, many employees were juggling homeschooling with work. And at the other end of the scale, others found themselves at home alone, missing the vibrancy and connection of the office.

Here’s how we helped our employees adapt:

  • we changed our systems so that they require less bandwidth, and made tech resource available to our consultants, supporting those with wi-fi challenges
  • we changed opening hours by removing late shifts and opening later in the morning
  • we were one of the first businesses to give employees a day off for wellbeing, when it was needed most
  • we closed the contact centre early several times throughout the year to run remote events, like our employee awards ceremony and our Christmas gala – it was more important than ever to find time to reflect and celebrate
  • we let employees who needed to homeschool take time off and adapt their schedules as needed

But this support was almost the least we could do for our employees. It became increasingly apparent that not only were they struggling with adapting to new ways of working, they were having emotionally difficult conversations with customers.

Many customers saw their income halt overnight, or had friends and family members suffering from coronavirus. Our consultants felt the pain our customers were going through, all from home and without anyone from the business to turn around and talk to.

We had to up our game with the mental health support we offered our people. So we’ve worked hard to support mental health, giving our employees practical resources and backing initiatives like Mental Health Awareness Week.

What’s more, we host weekly level ups, which give employees and guest speakers a chance to talk about inspiring topics. In 2020 we used this forum to give sessions on caring for our mental health, sleep, and nutrition.

We’ve also increased coaching and support, pointing employees to our online learning and development platform, and our mental health aiders.

To give reassurance to our employees, we focused on protecting jobs at the start of the pandemic. We needed to be there for our people, supporting them through difficult times. We put a pause on hiring, as job safety for our existing team was paramount – it was impossible to know when (and if) the situation was going to get better.

However the phone lines soon started to get busier than ever as our customers needed our support. We realised that we needed more people to meet demand.

So, we started recruiting, hiring 72 new people. Our training is fully remote and we’ve hired people from all over the country.

Existing forums helped keep our people updated

In a crisis, we believe there’s no such thing as too much communication with your people. That’s why we’ve been as open and consistent with our employees as possible.

In many ways it was challenging to redefine internal communications in a locked-down world, but it was all possible because we’ve spent years refining how we communicate with our employees. This meant we were really well placed to keep our team updated throughout a stressful time.

For example, fortnightly town halls let different teams from across the business give updates on particular projects and pieces of work that have improved the lives of our customers and our people.

Our leaders host regular ‘Ask Me Anything’ sessions which are important to keep our people updated and let everyone have a chance to ask questions openly in the weeks and months following the start of the first lockdown (and now).

The aforementioned level ups give a useful learning forum, and are often hosted by inspiring guest speakers.

And finally, we’ve revamped the way we communicate with our frontline staff, organising information better, improving coaching and training, and ultimately helping them be the best they can be at their job.

This all led to record customer satisfaction scores

In the most challenging year in recent memory, we’re proud that not only have our people been able to help so many customers, those customers have been overwhelmingly satisfied with the service they’ve received.

Even still, while customer satisfaction is high, there have been times when we haven’t been able to support our customers as much as we’d like.

For example, we’re still taking a little longer than usual to respond to emails, and our customers are waiting on IVR longer than we want them to (on the worst day it was up to 18 minutes, which isn’t up to our standards).

That being said, we’ve got a team as happy as possible given the circumstances – our NCC employee engagement score, which measures how engaged your people are with all aspects of work, went from 80 per cent before the pandemic to 82 per cent in July 2020.

Plus, we’re hiring people and training teams as fast as we can. Today, we’re in a better place – we’re constantly learning, and will be improving service for our customers over the next 12 months.

Both our customers and our people needed help in the toughest of circumstances – we feel proud that we've tried our best to be there for them.

And as a company, our ambitions remain stronger than ever. Watch this space as we continue to push boundaries, improving the insurance experience for small businesses and landlords.

Have you got a story about adapting your business during coronavirus? We’d love to hear it – let us know in the comments below.

Bea Montoya

Written by

Bea Montoya

Beatriz Montoya is UK Chief Operating Officer at Simply Business. Bea is an expert in creating customer-centric marketing efforts, and products and services.

We create this content for general information purposes and it should not be taken as advice. Always take professional advice. Read our full disclaimer

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