Hire purchase business Brighthouse have come a long way since their first store in Chelmsley Wood which opened in 1994 to having more than 270,000 customer nationwide today. It needed to improve the way its Customer Account Advisors accessed information while they were out in the field to help deliver better customer service. It turned to Vodafone to help uncover the issues and to provide a solution and the results have been dramatic. Your Ready Business spoke to Alasdair Skeoch, Head of Multi-Channel about how Brighthouse are working with Vodafone as part of their ongoing investment and plan to improve customer service.
Our business is a rental organisation with more than 300 stores across the UK. Customers can buy products in instalments with the opportunity to return them should circumstances change.
The company sell a range of products – from soft furnishings to TVs – to customers who otherwise wouldn’t have the capital to buy them elsewhere. The business model grew from the legacy Radio Rentals, a business that was popular in the 60s 70s and 80s, and has been in the Brighthouse format for about 20 years.
New communication channels for better customer service
Our Customer Account Advisors are central to the business. They visit customers to discuss finance options and try to understand what their challenges are. They go through the range of solutions we can offer to allow the customers to bring their account up to date.
They need to be great communicators, display a level of empathy and they must have up-to-date information to be able to convey the options available from the business accurately in a way that is relevant to each customer.
Historically all interactions with customers used to happen through the store network, but as we opened up new communications channels via the contact centre or smartphone payments, it became apparent that change was needed.
This created a challenge: ensuring our colleagues in the field had all the latest information on the status of their customer accounts.
Our Advisors had all the information when they left the store, but by the time they reached an address the status of the account may have changed. They spend a lot of time in the field, so this was happening a lot.
How we overcame the challenge
The first thing we did was research a range of suppliers who were assisting companies with a similar need to ours, in terms of visiting customers regularly. We quickly realised that a lot of systems – for example from the collections sector – were not tailored to our needs.
We worked with Vodafone’s Advisory Services team to really get to the heart of the problem. They took a different approach by going out in the field to truly understand our business and focused on making our colleagues more mobile and agile. This holistic methodology included a ‘Day in the Life of’ Study to learn first-hand how Advisors were working and sought to identify opportunities for improvement with our mobile workforce.
We went through a series of workshops with Vodafone and created a proof of concept to establish whether the route we were heading down was a viable one for the business.
One of the most important stages within this process was establishing buy-in from the Customer Account Advisors. Our colleagues needed to feel ownership of the new system or it would not work. A number of them have been with us for decades and their job has a large amount of autonomy, so being given a route or action plan on a device is a major change.
We sat down with them and explained what we were going to do and why. We asked for insights into the challenges they faced and how these might be remedied. They were involved from the very early stages of the build, so they had a lot of input.
It was the right thing to do and it gave the changes more impact and a much better chance of success. We weren’t forcing a change they were uncomfortable with, which we felt was crucial.
The positive impact on our business
We launched the pilot utilising secure devices loaded up with customer data in 18 stores initially, gathered feedback and made an assessment of the results. The success criteria was pretty easy to measure because for us success was defined in a single question: did the colleagues feel it helped them?
Security was another important issue for us. We had to make sure that as we load customer data onto a remote device, the unit is secure. We think what we have is considerably more secure than other technology as well as our old pen and paper system.
We have encryption and password security and we can remotely wipe devices should they get lost or otherwise fall beyond our control – you certainly can’t do that with a clipboard.
The response was excellent and there have been other benefits too including access to fresh insights and information. A lot of our colleagues have years of experience, but the process of distilling that information into a system is hard. This allows us to track key data such as the best time to visit customers and the best time to have a conversation. It also lets us follow the outcome of the conversation and feed that information back into the system instantly.
There was also a positive motivational impact for colleagues brought about by the feeling of working in a business using cutting edge technology. They feel more professional – much better than the pen and paper they had been using for some time.
Working with a strategic partner like Vodafone was great because we benefited hugely from their multi-industry experience at a time when we were creating something completely new. The team helped us to plan up-front so the end model was as close as possible to what we wanted to introduce at the start.
We’re very happy with the result. We’re busy rolling out the technology and we are upgrading it so that it can handle all of the tasks our Customer Account Advisors can complete in store. It’s been a very positive experience and we recommend that other companies in the same boat should try an upgrade too.