It was a dark and stormy night. The woman, stranded by the side of a motorway on the rawest of December days, shivered and peered anxiously into her rear view mirror hoping to see the reassuring lights of the breakdown service van that was coming to change her tyre. “Two hours” they said, and, as her mobile phone was running desperately low on power, she couldn’t even risk calling home in case the RAC couldn’t find her, and she needed to call again.

Then a brightly lit vehicle pulled up and her spirits immediately lifted; she thought “thank God, they’re early.” But it wasn’t the RAC, it was even better than that. It was Gavin from Autoglass® – well it wasn’t actually Gavin, but someone just as good. But wait a minute; Autoglass® don’t fix tyres do they? No, but what they do very well is empathy and compassion. They are frequent motorway “Heroes”, who stop to help motorists, especially in times of obvious dire need.

Bill Kalyan, Head of Sales and Service Centre at the Autoglass® head-quarters in Bedford, shared this great customer story on a recent visit. This is one of many similar communications from customers who have experienced a level of care rarely seen in any business in the UK. I was there to learn why Autoglass® has become a household name. Calling Autoglass® is a distress purchase, and as Bill said,” I’m sure none of you have said to your partner; ‘hey, why don’t we go out and look at new windscreens today’.” Despite this, Autoglass® has generated a significant following on Facebook and Twitter, showing how important it is to create a strong presence and positive sentiment out in social media land, even if there isn’t an immediate need for your product.

But this isn’t really just about social media (though more on how Bill and his team have driven the digital and mobile revolution at Autoglass later on). This is how an organization that started in Bedford in 1972 grew to be a leading consumer automotive service brand, providing vehicle glass repairs and replacements to over 1 million motorists every year. Autoglass® has over 100 branches nationwide and 1,200 mobile technicians serving customers 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. That’s the history lesson, but it really doesn’t tell the whole story.

Autoglass® is primarily a service provider to the insurance industry, but also serves motorists directly. Being able to empathetically and promptly deal with the types of difficulties that we find ourselves in when a windscreen goes pop is critical to their success. This positivity, and the customer experience that it delivers, finds its source in the mantra that wafts through the business like a refreshing summer breeze; “A natural willingness to make a difference for our customers”. This is no empty promise or glib marketing slogan. It is based on a deeply shared, mutually developed and socialized value system that is aligned to the overall business culture. This reflects the commitment of both employees and management, and is based on fundamental and proven principles.

The four fundamental principles that drive customer experience

These four principles, Culture, Commitment, Community and Communication, are the lifeblood of a truly customer centric organization. They are the foundation on which Bill and his team have built their customer experience strategy and in a broader context govern human effectiveness and conscious thought. They have been vital and visibly active components in establishing a foundation for the processes, tools, technologies and practices that have transformed Autoglass® by engaging the whole company and bringing the operational side of their customer experience strategy to life.

Culture drives the business forward

The culture of excellence that has grown up over the last few years at Autoglass® has given the customer service centre the guidance, tools and authority to make timely decisions. They are clearly proud of what they do and the role they play in rescuing customers in need. Most are smartly attired in, and are empowered by, an Autoglass® “uniform”, and it certainly feels as if this contributes to the high quality and friendly, confident approach to customers shown by the contact centre, branch and mobile technician workforce. It’s clear that Autoglass® has recognized that people really do make a difference, especially when given the right level of training, trust and authority to make decisions solve problems and keep customers informed. We’ll look at this in more detail in the second part of this Autoglass® tour.

Doing business with Autoglass is easy

A lot has been written about the importance of making life easy for customers and reducing effort. Nowhere is this more important than when you’re staring at pile of broken glass and getting a face full of fresh air. Paradoxically, as many businesses have found out, making it easy and delighting customers aren’t mutually exclusive and take a lot of hard work. Regardless of whether you measure delight, effort or ease of doing business, at some point you will need to drill down into the root causes of customer perceptions: what specific technologies, business processes and/or employee behaviours made doing business with the company easy or difficult? This is where Bill and team have focused their energies, and the customer feedback reflects this. Autoglass® is rated as one of the top Customer Service providers in the UK, as measured by a Net Promoter Score (NPS), which has consistently rated over 75% over the last three years, compared to many other businesses that typically “achieve” scores in the lower category.

Technology supports the vision

Technology clearly plays a key role in making this happen. Autoglass® has made sure that they have aligned their ambition with the corresponding technology to meet evolving customer demands and expectations, while at the same time ensuring that it provides the capability for smooth and speedy processes for the customer service teams. This is particularly true of the evolution of the digital and mobile channels that are playing an increasingly important role at Autoglass®. Consequently, as with any truly innovative organization that really understands the Omni-channel world, they have invested heavily to ensure that their digital and mobile strategy, and the underlying technology, reflects the customer choice of channels, is seamless integrated and device agnostic.

The Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system is a rich and growing source of data that is tightly integrated with insurance company systems. This quickly allows the advisors to bring up the relevant information on the customer, the vehicle and the associated insurance details. This means that rather than navigating sluggishly through myriad screens, the Autoglass® advisor typically has all of the relevant information on a single screen, and can quickly and professionally complete the transaction regardless of the channel.

Digital and Mobile strategy keeps pace with a changing world

In the early days much of the business was done via the local service centres, especially in the dark days before mobile phones came along to “liberate” us all. Currently, 95% of the initial interactions are handled through the contact centre by phone, or via the new Autoglass® smartphone app. The app provides visual dialling, a call-back service, appointment booking and email for less pressing requests. The app also features tools to assess damage and service centre locations. Bill’s ambition is to have 50% of interactions electronically by 2015. I personally found that the flexibility and ease of use on my Android device suggested that this is a conservative estimate. The website is equally impressive and functionally friendly, and clearly shows the phone number, the call-back option, and an on-line booking capability on every page. Navigation is simple and logical, information is easy to find, with key items such as pricing and replacement logistics, transparent and complete.

Autoglass® also recognized that social media was becoming more important to their customers, and in 2011 became the first UK service company to launch an integrated Facebook app for bookings with the added bonus of being able to engage customers in a broader brand feedback discussion. As a result of their very successful TV ads featuring Gavin, the technician, Facebook groups sprang up with thousands of people talking about Gavin. This showed that despite the distress nature of the purchase, people were legitimately interested in interacting with the company, perhaps for a little in fun at first, but also because for many having a windscreen problem wasn’t an everyday occurrence. It gave Autoglass® an opportunity to play a market leading role, providing a genuinely valuable and timely service.

Once you put yourself out there, it’s even more important that you can respond quickly and authoritatively to both positive and negative posts. Autoglass® has had their share of the latter, and clearly being able to deal with these quickly while addressing the core problem is of vital importance. Bill introduced me to Emma and Mike who are up in the “Twitter sphere” and he is clearly proud of the role they play in responding promptly to any Facebook or Twitter posts. It’s not a perfect world, and even Autoglass® sometimes make a mistake, but when they do, and especially if the customer lets the world know via social media, Emma and Mike are quick to step in and calm the situation down. What’s great about it is that they are located with the rest of their colleagues in the service centre, have access to all customer data, and take total responsibility for any problem that comes their way and see it through to a usually happy ending.

It wasn’t always like this though. Bill told me that when he first started, 26 years ago (Alex Ferguson was also job hunting then, but had to settle for Man U!) and for many years after, the contact centre was a small, dark room where the employees were kept under lock and key for 8 hours and only allowed out for brief comfort breaks and the occasional thimble full of water. Perhaps I overstate, but you get my drift and, as with many businesses, they were seen as a disconnected cost centre and certainly not integrated into the rest of the business either culturally, physically or technologically.
Consequently, as a result of the trust instilled in them and the encouragement, support and commitment from Bill and the rest of the management team – along with technology that helps, not hinders – the contact centre team knows that as far as the customer is concerned, they are the company, and respond enthusiastically and positively to each new challenge.

There are many reasons for the success of Autoglass, but I couldn’t help but feel, while sitting in the contact centre and talking with the team, a highly charged flow of supportive energy that pulses through the business. We’ll explore this further, and look at how true employee engagement has made this happen, in the next part of the journey.

While Bill admits that they still have some work to do to consistently deliver a great customer experience, he can see the road ahead, has great faith in his travelling companions and has a clear vision of where they’re going and how to get there.

I’d certainly put my chips on him, and all the team, loading up the van, driving more customer advocacy and delivering the goods.

Gerry Brown
The Customer Lifeguard
Gerry has had key management roles in the UK and Canada, advising business on their transformation strategy and change management processes. He has been involved in the growth of many of the larger customer service operations and contact centre deployments in both countries. In his current role as a speaker, workshop trainer and consultant, his focus is now on helping businesses create a memorable and lasting customer experience that will drive loyalty, reduce attrition and bring profitable customers back again and again.

Building on three decades of business experience, and as a vocal customer himself, Gerry is fiercely committed to paying more than lip service to customers, and is rolling up his sleeves to help companies to better align the key building blocks of people, process and technology, to bring a successful and sustainable customer experience strategy to life.

Gerry is a member of the Professional Speaking Association (PSA) and the Global Speakers Federation (GSF) and speaks authoritatively and passionately about the practical, proven, customer service strategies that produce lasting, memorable and measurable results

Field of Expertise:

Development of business strategies & operational technology deployment specializing in:
– Customer experience strategy design, deployment and measurement
– Multi-channel/Omni-Channel customer service technology sourcing, design and
– Mobile, digital marketing and the value and integration of Big, and not so big, Data
– Making sense of, and deriving value from, leading CRM solutions such as, to align sales processes, operational and other complementary
technologies to truly deliver a single customer view

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