For a company like ours customer service is the very backbone of what we do. If we don’t treat our customers well, they’ll find someone who will. It is made clear to all members of staff that the customer experience is paramount. In fact our Chief Executive Andy Briggs says that helping people is what gets him out of bed in the morning.

But when I heard about one member of staff and the lengths she goes to for her customers, I was astounded. Elaine Gibson is a Care Support Manager and has been in the role for 11 years. Her job is to support mainly very elderly people who years ago invested in a long-term care product. This can involve spending a lot of time on the phone sorting out what the customer needs to continue living as independently as possible.

Elaine, though, has taken customer service to a level I’ve rarely seen before. She often speaks to the same customers on a regular basis, every few months, and when she does she makes careful notes about what is going on in their life. It means the next time she calls them Elaine can check up on how their grandson is getting on at school or if their dog is feeling better. For a long time Elaine was also sending birthday cards out to her customers and paying for it out of her own pocket. She still sends the cards, but we now cover the cost.

But the most remarkable story I heard about Elaine involved a very elderly gentleman who was in regular contact with us. During the course of one of their phone calls Elaine discovered that this customer had no food in the house and wasn’t able to get out to the shops. So Elaine contacted the Red Cross in his local area and within two hours they were at his door with a food parcel. Remarkable!

Elaine builds relationships with customers. She always has in her mind that on the end of phone is a real person – not a process or tick box. It is service like that which generates customer loyalty and in a time when customers have a huge choice of where they get their goods and services from, loyalty counts for a huge amount.

Friends Life’ values are ‘Ease, Empathy and Expertise’. It’s what we try to get every member of staff thinking about. We should make dealing with us as easy as possible, we should understand how a customer is feeling and put ourselves in their shoes and we should be the experts, guiding our customers through complex financial matters. If we can achieve all of those three things every time we deal with a customer then we’re on the right track.

I recently had my own experience of the good and the bad in customer service. I had an incorrect charge on my credit card so I tried to call them but I couldn’t get through. So I called my bank, a company completely unconnected to my credit card provider. The member of staff I spoke to offered to contact the credit card company on my behalf and sort out the charge. Later that day I received a call back to say everything had been rectified and I would get my money back. It left me feeling let down by my credit card company but I was very impressed by my bank. Gestures like that, going beyond the call of duty where possible, are what sets one company apart from its rivals.

Robin SmithRobin Smith
Robin has been Operations Director at Friends Life since 2010 and has responsibility for Customer Service, Supplier Management and Marketing in the Heritage division..
Prior to joining Friends Life, Robin worked for a number of years at AXA in the UK. While there he held a number of senior positions including Managing Director Traditional, Head of Customer Services and Head of Sales Operations. Robin’s background also includes a variety of actuarial roles, including time spent working for Union des Assurances de Paris Vie, in Paris.
Outside of work, Robin is a keep fit enthusiast with running, cycling, swimming and skiing among his favourite pastimes.

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