Customer service lessons from lockdown
David Poulton of Legal & General reflects on what we have learnt about customer service during the lockdown.
Covid-19 has affected organisations, big and small, in a very short space of time. Office closures forced hundreds of organisations to redeploy their workforce and technology in ways they may not have considered before. At Legal & General, we were not immune to this challenge. Our customer services teams across Hove and Cardiff look after the pensions of more than a million customers.
Our priority was not only to continue paying our customers on time, but also to provide reassurance that their life savings and financial future are safe with us. We wanted to make sure we continue to serve customers as worries about finances increase and customers may feel anxious and distressed because of economic uncertainty. Our institutional clients too are looking to us to provide guidance in the wake of huge disruption to financial markets.
In-house customer services mean we can adapt quickly
All of our customer services are in-house, which means that we were able to make decisions much quicker. As an organisation we were already moving towards agile and remote working using web based technologies. Covid-19, however, accelerated this process. In a very short time our business and people faced a lot of change, both in the way they work and in their personal lives.
Making sure we focus on the right things and adapt quickly
It was critical for us to continue to support customers with minimal impact, from pension payments to new pension settlements all the way to supporting our customers’ families through very difficult situations such as bereavement. We accelerated our ongoing developments to reduce paperbased processes to digital, which included moving away from wet signatures, offering over the phone services and introducing web based options to enhance the customer experience. A lot of teams worked together to deliver these changes in an agile manner in a short space of time. For many, home working was a big change. Providing support on how staff can look after themselves, manage their space and time is important. We quickly made sure our colleagues had all the right equipment and technology for remote working. Our business technology colleagues did a fantastic job in issuing laptops where needed, switching to web based telephony, and delivering monitors, keyboards and other IT equipment within a few weeks of lockdown. Our network and server capacities were increased and MS Teams is now the new norm for communication and staff engagement.
Health and wellbeing of our people
Allof this would not have been possible without the hard work, dedication and resilience of our staff. Dealing with customers who are distressed and anxious can have implications on employees’ mental health and wellbeing at any time but an exceptional situation like this adds to people’s stresses. Lockdown means some of the co-worker, family and friends’ support may not be there and working at home can lead to an ‘always on’ mentality, which if we’re not careful can cause burnout. To try to mitigate this we introduced more one to ones, team socials and business briefings. In addition, we organised a number of special events for our staff and their families to help boost morale and wellbeing.
Not all plain sailing
Adapting the roles, processes, managing people and supporting team leaders has not been without its challenges. There have been teething issues as things evolved very quickly, however our teams and business were able to adapt quickly. We were completely transparent with our customers on where we had to change our service availability and offer convenient alternatives to minimise disruption and manage expectations. The speed with which we have adapted as an organisation to these new ways of working is incredible and a significant shift in mind set across the board.
Preparing for the "new normal"
As the second wave of the pandemic progresses, we are reflecting on what we have learnt so far. I don’t know if and when we will return to the previous normal, but going through this crisis and steering the customer service teams through two lockdowns has shown many potential upsides in terms of flexible working. As hopes rise that we may see the approval of one or more Covid-19 vaccine by the end of the year, we look ahead with a degree of optimism. From a servicing perspective, I’d like to continue to see how we can work more flexibly together but we also hope that more of us can head back into the office when it is safe to do so - and continue to deliver outstanding customer service to existing and future customers.
I’d like to finish by thanking all of the individuals working in customer services across our industry. You all are, without doubt, the unsung heroes working behind the scenes to deliver great customer service while overcoming many challenges in your personal lives. You have my applause and heartfelt appreciation for everything you do.