Heather Curtis, Head of Customer Experience charts the journey she’s been on with her team – and the advisers they serve – as they transform Ascentric’s service and support model.
Building sustainable improvements to your service and support
When I arrived at Ascentric in the second half of 2019, I was excited by the considerable challenges in front of us. After the extensive work to re-platform, the focus had naturally shifted to transforming our service, embracing the new working world and creating a great company to work for – and do business with. And for me personally, the challenge of shaping a team that’s determined to deliver the very best.
After a very successful trial, where we worked closely with a number of advisers and their teams, we’ve recently launched the first phase of our new target operating model. This involved our customer service and new business teams building stronger relationships with advisers and learning how we can work together more effectively.
We’ve already reduced our new business application turnaround times. Call waiting times have improved significantly and we’re resolving more queries than ever within 24 hours. We’ve made great strides to remove paper from our processes and introduced digital signatures.
Redesigning our service model to better suit you
Our starting point was to focus on the two fundamental elements of a service-based, people-focused business: relationships and profitability.
It’s easy to throw around phrases like ‘client-centric’, ‘ownership’ and ‘seamless service’. But not always so easy to create an experience that reflects them authentically. It takes hard work and commitment.
For me, great people who care about their customers, are always at the heart of any successful service model. I’m most proud of how all our colleagues have embraced the changes.
We have a fantastic, engaged team who thrive on being empowered to do the right thing for our customers, and finding better ways of working for everyone. We now talk about ‘partnerships’ with adviser firms, and the teams have a real, growing sense of pride, as service and relationships with firms have improved.
We’re conscious that in these challenging times, with margins under pressure, efficiency and ease of doing business become even more critical.
Our model is based on the principles of case ownership and partnership which come through loud and clear as important to our adviser partners. Dialogue at our adviser boards, user panels, and numerous onsite visits shaped the focus for our service improvements and new team structure.
We plan to continue to work alongside advisers, para-planners and admin teams to understand practical service challenges first hand.
This approach means we’ve tested, learned and gradually improved over time. However, we must maintain a high level of two-way communication, and a shared ethos, to continue to develop and improve, as we move into the next phase of the operating model improvements.
Your dedicated contacts
We haven’t opted for a single dedicated contact for each firm – it’s unrealistic to fulfil and having a dependency on one person introduces unnecessary risk.
Instead, we offer a dedicated regional team for each firm. It’s a small pool of people who get to know their customers really well. We’ve seen deep, positive relationships form between adviser firms and our new business and service teams. One person co-ordinates answers to each query, tracking and monitoring to make sure it’s done right. As we develop this approach, we’re working towards becoming more proactive in resolving complex queries that need significant technical input or support from other areas of the business. We’ll be developing new ways of tracking and keeping advisers up to date with progress.
Making change sustainable
The key to this is training and development, so our colleagues have the knowledge to deliver the best service, and the soft skills to build trust and strong relationships. We’re rolling out a structured training and coaching programme this year. This will help us continuously develop the product, technical and process knowledge of our colleagues, who we support through one to one coaching. We’ve also introduced an exciting new leadership development programme, for our Customer Service Managers.
Constant change and the COVID challenge
Stress testing any new system or process is the only way to know for sure if something works. COVID19 has provided an unforeseen opportunity to put financial services to the test, and we’re proud to have met that challenge successfully.
It’s proved we can react quickly and positively; we’re on the front foot with using scanned images and e-signatures. We’ve been proactive in contacting the other businesses we regularly deal with across the industry to set out our position, and encourage them to move to a paperless model. We’ll continue to be very active in this space and challenge our internal processes, balancing regulations and controls with the best service and new ways of working.
Throughout this whole period – including a busy tax year end – we’ve maintained service levels and received some fantastic feedback from our adviser partners.
Recent satisfaction results from the independent Investment Trends Survey have been really positive. They point to the improvements landing well with advisers, so we’re definitely on the right track. But, we’re under no illusion of the work still ahead.
For the next six months, our newly formed service improvement ‘tribe’ are driving a number of key initiatives. These include password resets, transfers and correspondence – all based on demand trends, feedback and root cause analysis.
Meanwhile we’re ploughing ahead with phase two of our operating model changes; we’re focusing on faster payments and transfers, reducing hand-offs internally and speeding up end-to-end service times.
Having completed my first six months I know that my excitement at joining such a great team was not misplaced and, if anything, my desire to deliver even more has grown.