How we transformed our organisation and our customer experience – Interview with Damian Thompson of Principality Building Society


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Today’s interview is with Damian Thompson, Director of Distribution at Principality Building Society, a Welsh building society founded in 1860 and head-quartered in Cardiff. Principality is the largest building society in Wales and the sixth largest in the United Kingdom. Damian joins me today to talk about how they transformed their customer experience by moving from a performance target culture to a behavioural model and how that has delivered sustained and consistent improvement in their customer experience.

This interview follows on from my recent interview – Towards a unified view of the customer – Interview with James McGourlay of OpenText – and is number 152 in the series of interviews with authors and business leaders that are doing great things, helping businesses innovate and delivering great service and experience to their customers.

Highlights of my interview with Damian:

  • Damian has worked in financial services for 22 years and, as such, he has seen how companies have delivered financial services and what impact that has had on customers and colleagues.
  • Traditionally, banks have had a very individual, regional and divisional performance culture and that gets in the way of putting the customer first.
  • We’ve seen lots of examples of the sort of behaviour that that sort of culture delivers.
  • What Damian has been doing at Principality is to move a away from an individually based performance culture to one that looks at what behaviours support customer service and supports differentiation of the organisation.
  • Moving to this type of culture poses lots of challenges for leaders and the three things that leaders need to consider is:
    • 1. Setting a realistic time-frame as it’s not going to happen overnight;
    • 2. If you want to put the customer at the heart of your organisation then you need to physically find a way of doing that; and
    • 3. Be clear with individuals and teams about how working together can benefit the customer.
  • In most organisations, feedback is requested and sent out by head office and often there is a significant time lag between the customer’s experience and when the survey is sent out.
  • Moreover, the results of the feedback often reaches the person who has served that customer last.
  • As a result, Principality empower colleagues that have served the customer to ask for feedback immediately following an individual’s experience. They also ask for suggestions on what they think they could improve on too.
  • Doing that has been the cement around which they have built a more customer focused organisation.
  • Also, when that feedback comes back into the business it can be seen by everyone across all of their channels, their offices and branches.
  • One example that Damian cites is when one customer came into a branch with her elderly mother and told them via their feedback process that none of the chairs in their branches had holds or arms on them that her mother could use to help her get up out of the chair (her mother had bad knees). As a result of that feedback and it being shared around the organisation, the branches came back and suggested that they put one chair (i.e. with arms) in every interview room that would be suitable for elderly customers with a similar condition. That suggestion was agreed and implemented overnight.
  • Most of the things suggested by customers are really simple. Another example is when customers go into a branch for an appointment, which may be an hour or two hours long, and they are offered a cup of tea or coffee. In many places, that tea or coffee comes from a vending machine. But, it’s not the same as one you would make at home. Customers notice this and mention it too in their feedback. So, Principality started making ‘real’ tea and coffee themselves and making sure that they sourced the materials from the local shops. This small tactic has generated a huge amount of compliments and, at the same time, they are also, in a small way, able to support the local business community.
  • Principality have now extended their transformation programme and have developed an internal forum where colleagues share ideas about things that they have done and changes that they have made, what has worked and what hasn’t.
  • This has allowed them to promote a culture where they celebrate and reward not only the customer service ‘heroes’ that deliver great service but also the ones that share great stories from within the business or from other businesses.
  • This is very similar to the goals and assists idea that comes from football (soccer, for our US brethren).
  • Damian believes that you can boil the success factors in this transformation down to three things:
    • 1. Self-regulation – where people are encourage to continuously learn like they did when they were children;
    • 2.Outside-In – what are you seeing inside your branch that could help one of your colleagues? And, what are you seeing or experiencing, with regards to great service, when not at work that you think that Principality could learn and benefit from? and
    • 3. Speed of action -how can we do more of the good things and less of the bad things as quickly as possible.
  • The results that they are getting are very strong. For example their NPS is very strong but, more importantly, they are achieving around 50% response rates on their customer surveys.
  • They are also securing those benefits by closing the feedback loop by going in to their branches and saying to their customers: “You told us this and we’ve done that’.
  • You can’t change peoples behaviours but you can help them create new habits.
  • Principality’s timeline to change was 9 months in thinking and research, 6 months to find someone in the organisation who buys into the philosophy and whose team was willing to be the ‘pilot’ team, 6 months for pilot (this includes embedding the idea that their culture is comfortable with negative feedback as it allows them to learn) and then onto rollout.
  • That means that Principality’s change and transformation process has taken over two years.
  • You also have to add another 6 months onto the process to allow for people getting comfortable with ’sharing’ their stories and insights about what is going well and what is not going so well.
  • Build on top of that the continuous improvement that goes on top as they implement process adjustments based on customer feedback and the implications for recruitment, induction and training and Damian believes that it will be 4 years from the start of the transformation process before he will be comfortable that the organisation and his colleagues are ‘on the path’.
  • Principality’s customer satisfaction is currently running around 88% whilst in the majority of their regions they have colleague engagement scores of circa 90%.
  • Principality’s success is now attracting the attention of many other big banks and insurance companies who are interested in learning from and implementing a similar approach.
  • An additional element is how Principality is getting more and more involved with their local communities. They have done this for a number of years but recently have changed tack and are now starting to do two things, in particular:
    • 1. They ask their communities to nominate someone in their local community who they believe does exceptional work for their community and Principality publicly recognises them locally and across their branch network; and
    • 2. They have also asked their communities to nominate projects or causes that are having a significant impact in their communities but they believe need significant support or resources. The winner last year was a charity in Pembrokeshire that works with families that have children who are the major care givers due to the parents being incapacitated for some reason.
  • Moreover, the branch manager in their Prestatyn branch has just been awarded the local ‘High Street Hero’ for the work that they are doing supporting local businesses and being a driver of a programme of how they can keep their local high street healthy, prosperous and vibrant.
  • This all plays a part in the high level of engagement they have with their customers and employees.
  • No one comes to work to a bad job so how do we help them do a better job.
  • Damian’s top tips for someone thinking about taking on this type of transformation include:
    • 1. Utilise people from outside your industry – go and look for best practice and work out how you can implement it in your business. But, be aware that you may not have to go far afield to find what you are looking for as the insight and best-practice that you are looking for may come from the local chippy or hairdresser.
    • 2. Be brave – what you will be attempting may not be the norm in your industry so make sure you have the strength to see it through.
    • 3. Plan appropriately – changing behaviours does not happen overnight so don’t make promises that you can’t keep.
  • If you do those things and execute your plan brilliantly then you will have a really god chance of success.
  • Damian’s shameless plug: There is somebody in your past that you have not spoken to for a significant period of time. Give them a call and say hello.

About Damian (adapted from his conference bio here)

Damian ThompsonDamian is the Distribution Director for Principality Building Society based in Wales. He has worked in Retail for the last 23 years in a variety of roles, starting my journey with Halifax as a customer consultant.

His passion lies in delivering true customer intimacy and developing his team of 400 colleagues to become experts in their field of expertise.

Principality Building Society is owned by its members and has a unique 150 year history. As such, Damian enjoys being a custodian of the mutual model and seeing it thrive in the new world that is evolving.

You can connect with Damian on LinkedIn here and don’t forget to say to everyone at Principality on Twitter @PrincipalityBS.


Photo Credit: TelmaSDS via Compfight cc

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Adrian Swinscoe
Adrian Swinscoe brings over 25 years experience to focusing on helping companies large and small develop and implement customer focused, sustainable growth strategies.


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