The workplace of the future: post-pandemic practices to benefit all stakeholders
5 mins read
In the second of three articles accompanying our BrightTalk webinars, Ian Curling looks at the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the life and pensions workplace of the future.
We’re living through possibly the biggest change in working patterns since the industrial revolution. Technology was already pushing us in this direction, but the Covid-19 pandemic prompted an almost immediate shift to working from home that nobody could have foreseen. As the threat recedes and workplaces return to some sort of normality, what have we learned, and what changes are here to stay?
The transformation in the customer service sector has been particularly striking. The huge offices that once housed banks of call centre operatives still stand empty, as staff continue to fulfil their duties from home workstations or kitchen tables. Life and pensions businesses have had to adapt, juggling customer satisfaction and employee wellbeing while harnessing technology and reinventing processes to suit this new environment.
At Capita we’ve managed this transition for a large life and pensions provider, and the project has been a resounding success. Within 48 hours of lockdown restrictions being announced, in both the UK and India, we moved to ensure that 80% of colleagues working at customer service centres in both countries were able to work safely and effectively from home, with the remainder working in a Covid-safe environment at our one UK office that remained operational.
Our priority was to maintain customer service without compromising employee wellbeing. By rapidly putting a virtual operations management and quality framework in place, including a virtual ‘mission control’ centre, we were able to ensure minimal disruption to customer outcomes. Furthermore, we empowered our colleagues to operate with greater levels of autonomy and flexibility, focusing on outcomes rather than presenteeism. A subsequent survey showed that 99% were satisfied with the actions we took to protect them during the pandemic.
For customers, we made sure that the front office remained open from 9:00am to 8:00pm daily, with colleagues processing queries from home. We also ramped up our conversational messaging programme to enable digital fulfilment of key customer demands, and before the lockdown hit, we launched a faster payments service to accelerate payments to customers to within three hours instead of three to five days which helped enormously when it came to increased call volumes.
By radically re-engineering processes, we’ve been able to shift from paper to paperless – and upskill our workforce along the way – to achieve our first-point resolution (FPR) and end-to-end targets. Today, 80% of customer demands are fulfilled instantly at FPR from the front office, with the remainder fulfilled in fewer than three days from the back office. This was implemented before the pandemic hit, and would have been far more difficult in the pandemic had we not done this.
The pandemic has created an extraordinary new business environment for organisations of all kinds. As a large majority of customer service employees are likely to be working from home for the foreseeable future, the role of transformative digital technologies – from robotic process automation to artificial intelligence and beyond – will also become even more important. Capita has invested heavily in these capabilities in recent years – we operate the UK’s largest automation centre of excellence at Fort Dunlop – and we are extremely well positioned to offer the highest levels of service to our clients in the ‘new normal’.
But AI and analytics are only part of the solution. Customers want to speak to a real person in times of crisis, when their question is more likely to be urgent and complex. Providing compassionate customer service will result in far higher customer loyalty. This new normal provides organisations the opportunity to look for new sources of talent – provide flexible working patterns, recruit from alumni, partner with clients to provide specialists and so forth. For example, both BT and Manchester Police have used retired staff to provide complex and specialist call handling from home. As systems become more sophisticated, it will also be possible to deploy more and more of the one-to-many approach – one employee skilled and equipped to deal with multiple enquiries, supported by the right technology.
While the pandemic has accelerated the development and uptake of new technologies, it has also shone a fresh light on the importance of employee wellbeing. Working from home presents its own set of HR challenges: how do you maintain and monitor employee performance? How do you recruit and train new employees? What about the mental health issues associated with isolated working where the only contact between colleagues is via a screen?
It’s key that you don’t simply send your teams home with a laptop and headphones and expect service to be maintained. You have to adopt new ways of working, rapidly adapting your infrastructure, management systems and processes to support an effective remote workforce and culture. Collaboration tools, shared desktops and directional language software are vital weapons in your armoury.
In this new working environment, it’s as important to protect the wellbeing of your team as it is to serve your customers well. Tools often used to monitor performance can be repurposed for employee welfare: voice recognition software that recognises stress levels or observes unhealthy working patterns (taking call after call without appropriate breaks) can keep a watchful and supportive eye on your teams. This information can inform the coaching needed to build new ways of working together even when we are apart.
There are all sorts of cost pressures coming out of the pandemic, but the life and pensions industry can’t afford to focus only on cost-cutting (although new technologies certainly present opportunities to reduce expenditure). Research from the Institute of Customer Service suggests that the leading customer service organisations in 2021 and beyond will be those that “command high levels of customer satisfaction and employee engagement(1).
Employee satisfaction and customer satisfaction go hand-in-hand. When employees feel a sense of purpose in their work and a sense of pride in their employer, they’ll be more productive and deliver work of higher quality – which in turn will lead to better customer experiences. We therefore need to consider the shape of the workplace when we’re thinking about business improvements. We must ensure that we enable the flexibility we know workers want in the post-pandemic world, without compromising access to the training and team dynamics that equip and motivate them to be successful.
2020 forced us all into new ways of working, teaching and even living. But far from being the death knell for call centres, the crisis has offered us a real opportunity to innovate at speed and find new routes to offer our customers (and theirs) exactly what they need. We have the imperative. We have the ideas. What we need is the courage.
To learn more about how Capita can help you and your life and pensions business, please visit our website, or call Paul Luke, Managing Director, Capita Regulated Services on Tel: 07557 170733 today or Email Paul.Luke@capita.com
Ian Curling is the Service Modernisation Lead for a large Life & Pensions account within Regulated Services in the Customer Experience Division of Capita. Ian has been with Capita for 7 years and delivering significant customer benefits and operational savings through that time. Before joining Capita Ian spent 15 years with a London based consultancy delivering assignments in Financial Services in main land Europe, Asia and America. Ian is a Lean -Six Sigma Blackbelt with an unrivalled commitment to improving customer service through operational best practice.