Getting staff to focus on the task in hand

Alex Blythe reports on how a performance management system helped the Co-operative Bank improve its service

The business

Three years ago, the Co-operative Bank was at a crossroads. It had built a strong brand around its ethical stance and excellent service commitment. It operated across high-street retail, telephone banking, and the internet. However, being much smaller than many of its competitors, each channel consistently struggled to acquire and retain customers in a way that was both cost-effective and consistent with the bank’s brand values. Despite being a thriving operation, the bank needed to lower costs and drive sales.

The challenge

Some 60 per cent of the bank’s call centre costs are taken up with its 2,000 staff, and a sizeable proportion of interaction with new and existing customers is channelled through them. The management team had been looking for a way to streamline performance management in that area for some time.

As Shelagh Everett, director of strategic and business projects, recalls: “It had always been paper-based and driven from human resources, rather than by the call centre management. The process was time-consuming, largely ineffective and there was little drive to improve it. However, we recognised the potential cost savings and revenue enhancements, and so kept looking. Finally, we came across Emvolve from a company called Performix Technologies.”

Emvolve is a software package that creates a matrix linking individual staff targets to the key performance indicators (KPIs) for each individual business unit. In turn, these are linked to overall business objectives. Emvolve then delivers a daily objective view of individual performance to each worker’s desktop. Employee targets can be weighted to reflect their potential impact on corporate performance, enabling staff to focus their efforts on those activities that will bring the greatest benefit to the organisation.

In 2001, the bank ran an initial implementation of Emvolve in its Skelmersdale call centre in Lancashire. The trial was a success, and over the next 15 months, Emvolve was rolled out to the other call centres.

The employee perspective

Carol Nisill, a customer service adviser, was opposed to the introduction of Emvolve.

“I thought it was going to be a way for management to spy on us,” she says.

But now she is full of praise. “It enables us to see exactly how we’re doing at the job, and this means there aren’t any nasty surprises at pay review time. It also means that managers can see where you’re falling down and give you training to help you.”

She describes the occasional, quickly-remedied technical fault, but is otherwise entirely positive about the results.

“Like most tools you need to use it constructively, but I think most of us now recognise that it’s actually something that can help us to develop our careers.”

The outcome

Despite some initial concerns from staff and unions about Big Brother-style monitoring, the introduction of Emvolve has had a hugely beneficial impact on the bank. For Rob Woolley, head of customer services centres, it has revolutionised the way he interacts with his staff.

“Before we had Emvolve if I wanted to do any performance management, it took me a long time to collect the management information and, by the time I’d got it, it was already out of date. Now my management team and I have accurate, up-to-date information on performance, and this means we can spend our time managing people rather than collecting data.”

Emvolve is used by the insurance sales and service centre, the debt collection team, and the branch network. Each of them measures its success or failure in individual ways, but Everett expects a return on investment within a year, and this has been achieved in every single deployment. She mentions some of the ways in which this has happened.

“When sales of personal loans were given higher priority through Emvolve, completion rates doubled within a month. Similarly, sales conversion rates for privilege accounts trebled. We’ve also been able to cut costs by removing a tier of management that was primarily employed collecting performance data.”

Learning points for HR

  1. The tool is only as good as its implementation – involve it in your daily interaction with staff, otherwise it’s meaningless

  2. Don’t impose something like this from the centre. To make it work, you absolutely must get business buy-in and leadership

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