What it takes to build an award winning and customer centric culture – Interview with Fiona McSwein of Simply Business


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Today’s interview is with Fiona McSwein, Chief Customer Officer at Simply Business, the UK’s favourite business insurance broker. They’ve just been awarded first place in The Sunday Times’ 100 Best Small Companies to Work For list (mid-sized category) this year. They are also a Sunday Times Tech Track 100 company and were recently named in the Deloitte Technology Fast 500 EMEA. Fiona joins me today to talk about what it takes to build an award winning and customer centric culture.

This interview follows on from my recent interview – Behavioural science, customer experience and why we should test more things – Interview with Rory Sutherland of #ogilvychange – and is number 160 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.

Note: The interview was recorded at Jury’s Inn in Brighton and so there is some background noise. However, it doesn’t spoil the recording and you can still hear our conversation just fine. Enjoy.

Highlights of my interview with Fiona:

  • Simply Business have just been awarded first place in The Sunday Times’ 100 Best Small Companies to Work For list (mid-sized category) this year after placing 21st in the small category last year.
  • The reason that they changed category is that they have grown their headcount by a third in the last year and now employee around 320 people (they’ve recruited around 100 people in the last 12 months).
  • They entered the competition as they are really proud of what they have achieved and it was an opportunity to tell a wider audience about that and evangelize about how good a company to work for Simply Business is.
  • It’s ironic that there is traditionally so much formality in the insurance sector when you think about what it does…..it’s a service that protects people, it’s about supporting people when they are fearful or when there is a crisis.
  • So, it almost feels at odds that an insurance company should be so formal and rigorous when you take into account how a customer feels or what they need when they come to call on an insurance company.
  • Simply Business’ customer manifesto is exactly the same as their internal company values. The business’ five core principles are:
    • To be human, but not sloppy or careless
    • To be clear, but not patronising
    • To be revolutionary, but not impulsive
    • To be knowledgeable, but not lofty
    • To be professional, but not corporate
  • This is all about the pursuit of happiness both for staff and customers.
  • If staff are happy then they are probably more likely to enjoy what they are doing, do it better, listen to each other and be more engaged.
  • The pursuit of happiness has become a hackneyed term as its become inauthentic and there is too much talk and not enough action that permeates through to all levels of the organisation.
  • Simply Business are small enough to be able to embrace their values all the way through the company.
  • Whilst 66% of Simply Business’ employees are customer facing there is no fear or restrictions on any of the other 34% of their team communicating with customers whether that is on the phone, email etc as it’s all about freedom and living their values.
  • They also provide lots of well-being and social initiatives to help their staff manage their work-life balance as well as their own development.
  • Central to that second part is that Simply Business is self-organised which means that they will give people a problem that they have to solve and then they will cluster people around that problem from different functions. That means the organisation doesn’t have a hierarchy, it means that the organisation has a series of objectives that are influenced by a series of problems that they are then tasked to solve and therefore improve on.
  • They have no organigram and no obvious hierarchical structure if you visit them in their offices.
  • An example project comes from their business objective of new business growth and they noticed that if they received 100,000 enquiries not all of them were receiving a quote successfully, particularly in their professional services category. So, the problem was how do improve conversion.
  • As a result, they assembled an analyst, a product manager, a developer and a UX specialist and took a deep dive into the problem. What they noticed was that these professional businesses were altering the parameters of the quote a lot to see what difference it made to the price. So, what they have done is create a price comparison module that this category of customers can use that allows them to see and compare different prices depending on the parameters that they have changed. This has lead to an improvement in their conversion rate.
  • It may have been a small discrete project but that team has been rewarded as it has help them achieve one of their corporate goals.
  • They fact that they operate in an agile, fast and iterative manner allows them to maintain the energy and enthusiasm of their people when they come up with a solution to a problem.
  • Fiona echoes what Syed Hasan of Responsetek in an earlier interview said: “Reasonable compensation, an interesting job and a voice in an organization seem to be the keys to employee engagement. Most companies focus on the first two but don’t do the last one and that is where the real value is. Employees have a lot to contribute and that is key to getting their full engagement.”
  • We have a natural tendency to over complicate things.
  • They have recently moved to allow their staff to embrace remote working but they haven’t used strict rules and conditions to manage this but rather have realised that they just have to trust their staff to do the work and to do what is right.
  • They focus on the outcomes and not the inputs and/or rules.
  • They also don’t have pay parity within different roles. They pay people based on their ability to be agile, solve problems, improve their numbers and achieve business objectives.
  • Every Monday morning they have a flash meeting on where they are with their numbers (full transparency) and every month they have a company wide meeting where anyone in the company can feedback, without fear, anything about how they feel about how the company works, what it is trying to achieve or how people are being organised.
  • On top of that, they also have Group retrospectives where people can acknowledge someone who has been ’Simply Brilliant’ in a project initiative. If that person is continually delivering and being recognised for it then that will lead to them being rewarded and also an increase in their overall salary level.
  • Fiona’s top tips on building a customer centric culture:
    • Match your values that you are publishing to your customers with your internal values.
    • When you do get negative feedback, rank them in terms of how extreme they are and then go solve their issues. Doing so will drive improvements in your overall level of customer happiness and advocacy.
    • Focus on creating a frictionless experience for your customers.
    • Always get feedback from your staff on how things are.
  • We use our customers in our marketing campaigns (Building Britain) as what better way to tell our story.
  • Do check out Simply Business.

About Fiona (taken from her Simply Business bio)

Fiona McSweinFiona makes sure that Simply Business products are designed with the customer in mind. As well as overseeing marketing and communications activities, Fiona leads customer research and other customer projects, running a team of 20 staff across these different departments.

Fiona brings 19 years of international marketing and product experience and joins Simply Business from Euromoney Institutional Investor plc where she was group director of marketing, since 2011.

Find out more about SimplyBusiness at their website, say Hi on Twitter @simplybusiness and connect with Fiona on Twitter @fionamcswein and on LinkedIn here.

Photo Credit: xadrian 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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