Steps in the right direction

Sue Savage, people development manager at Egg, explains the impact that an
effectively integrated customer service training framework has had on its
e-commerce banking business

Stepping Out
Designed by: Harris Associates, Quadrant Court, 53 Calthorpe Road,
Edgbaston, Birmingham B15 1TH
Phone: 0121 454 5553
Fax: 0121 455 6553
www.harrisassociates.co.uk

The launch of Egg as an online financial services provider nearly three
years ago was a phenomenal success and the number of customers that came
flooding in presented a real challenge for the resourcing of the company. The
company was floated in June 2000, now enjoys over 1.7 million customers and
employs approximately 2,000 staff.

The challenge

Egg recognised that its challenge was to ensure that:

– The increase in new customers was matched with excellent after-sales
service

– Associates’ competencies to perform their roles was maintained and
improved

– Staff retention was maximised through positive developmental initiatives

Until 1999, Egg had designed and delivered all training and development
internally. While this proved effective in getting people induced into this
fast-moving, customer-focused environment, the head of HR operations, Chris
Stephenson, recognised that, "Delivering exceptional customer service is a
fundamental aspect of the Egg proposition. We wanted a training vehicle that
would build on our induction programme and allow us to continue raising the
quality of our customer service."

It was against this backdrop that the HR department of Egg began discussions
with Harris Associates, a national, Birmingham-based HR and organisational
development company. Harris Associates was requested to undertake a programme
of research to identify and develop an integrated customer service development
framework.

Savage says, "We chose to work with an external provider because we
recognised that incorporating accredited qualifications, particularly NVQs,
would add real value to our training programme. As an e-commerce banking
business, we needed to find a company offering innovative and flexible training
delivery and a real understanding of how our business operates. Harris
Associates demonstrated these qualities and had a track record of working with similar
organisations. It was also able to support a national, multi-sited operation.

"One of the advantages for me was that it looked to Egg to become a
true partner in the development and implementation of any framework and, of
course, this was what we wanted.

"We did not want an organisation to come in and ‘do to us’. So the
seeds were sown for an effective working partnership."

Designing the framework

The process of designing the working framework was thorough and based on a
very clear brief agreed by both parties at the outset. "The project team
on Egg’s side consists of myself as internal project manager, with the support
of administrators, assessors and coaches," Savage explains.

"On Harris Associates’ side, there is a training manager, project co-ordinator,
assessors and training administrators. The roles and responsibilities of these
people were defined, along with a clear communications strategy, which included
weekly and monthly operational meetings, as well as a more strategic steering
group, involving senior management from both organisations. This was to ensure
that all levels of the business are involved in the both the design and ongoing
development of the framework."

Once the project team was in place, a research programme commenced,
involving a detailed review of background information, including business
plans, training materials, organisational structures and roles. Following this,
a functional analysis plus a range of interviews were completed to enable the
team to:

– Take account of staff views, perceptions and attitudes towards training

– Identify barriers, issues and key strengths

– Identify preferred delivery models

– Benchmark sales associate roles against national standards of competence
in customer service, administration, call handling, sales, financial services
and information technology

A detailed report was presented to Egg, which led to a series of meetings
and discussions to define the most appropriate training framework for the
business.

The framework was agreed and given a name – Stepping Out. It was designed as
a competency based training programme, to provide operational staff with
nationally accredited, on-the-job training with a direct link to customer
service requirements.

In addition, business improvement projects were introduced, which required
participants to be proactive in their involvement with their teams and the
organisation.

The final link was to incorporate a Customer Service Modern Apprenticeship
programme into the framework for the under 24-year-old population. Over 24s
completed NVQ Level 3 in Customer Service as their key qualification in the
framework.

The programme was launched in the sales centres at Dudley and Derby in 1999,
and a strategic working partnership formed between Egg, Harris Associates and
the lead Training and Enterprise Council.

Partnership

Savage stresses that this integrated project team is key to the success of
the programme. "An effective working partnership rests upon each party
understanding the needs of the other, for example Harris Associates have been
able to ‘get under the skin of Egg’ and gain a clear understanding of our
unique culture and ways of working.

"This has ensured that the programme provides the best results for our
people while minimising any disruption to the working day and removing the
weight of bureaucracy traditionally associated with large-scale training
programmes.

"Equally, we have been able to understand the parameters of funded
training and rely upon our partner to ensure we meet all the necessary
requirements."

Measure of success

Stepping Out underwent its first large-scale review during January to March
2001. The review showed truly exceptional results in terms of:

– Improved customer service

– Enhanced performance in job role

– Support for succession planning

– Cost and time savings realised through business improvement projects.

The top performers in the team have all completed the Stepping Out
programme. "It was the performance improvement measurement which really
impressed us and proved to me that our investment was truly effective,"
says Savage.

"This programme has made a positive contribution to retention rates and
progression of individuals within the organisation."

Credibility and relevance

"Bottom line business benefits from training and development are
essential to maintain the credibility and relevance of training departments
within any organisation. This, again, is an added benefit of close partnership
working – if we had simply ‘outsourced’ the NVQ framework we would not have
been able to realise these sorts of benefits," Savage adds.

"Through my meetings with the project team, I have been able to keep
Harris Associates regularly updated with the constant changes and evolution of
the business. Because their assessors are actually based in our offices, and do
not just visit to undertake assessments, they have also been able to experience
the business growth and development at close quarters."

According to Savage, during the past year over 180 business improvement
projects have been successfully implemented, which produced significant cost
and time savings.

In total, nearly 300 associates have benefited from Stepping Out and the
results have been so successful that the framework has been extended to cover
the areas of call handling, IT, coaching, administration, sales and financial
services.

The new framework also helps to support organisational competencies and
identifies recommended internal training programmes, which support learners’
development within the business.

"This means that the new framework is now totally integrated with our
current training provision, ensuring everyone completes an individually
tailored programme which matches their development needs," Savage
explains.

"And, of course, they all have the opportunity to gain a nationally
accredited qualification which is recognised in this business and beyond."

Verdict

Associates review performance and give feedback:

77% of associates recorded improvement in customer service

72% commented upon improved confidence and ability to handle difficult calls

74% felt an improvement in morale and motivation between teams

66% showed an improved relationships between colleagues/team

57% of managers/team leaders noted improvements within their teams

30% had already achieved promotion or identified a new opportunity for
development

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