Customer service at the Nationwide

The Nationwide is a financial services organisation which has been active in using the Internet as a customer service tool. Bicknell (2002) reports that the volume of customer service is as follows:

• 900,000 registrants on site with 2.4 million visits to the site in August 2001.

• Of the 1.2 million who entered the online bank, 900,000 made transactions resulting in 60,000 online contracts which require customer service.

These figures highlight the number of transactions that will have reduced customer contacts in real-world branches and by phone, but this still leaves 60,000 online contacts. The Nationwide believed that customers should expect service to be fast and accurate. Mark Cromack, operations manager, said:

There was a hugh demand for more and more information and an explosion in the level of information that people wanted. That had implications for staff morale. What we needed was an autoresponse facility which provided quality, compliant and consistent answers.

To reduce the volume of calls, Frequently Answered Questions (FAQ) was not sufficient. The company purchased two products from Firepond to improve service. Concierge is provided on the home page to provide a facility with natural language searching to help customers find the answers to their queries more rapidly. Answer is an automated message routeing tool that provides automated answers to simple questions which can be reviewed by contact centre staff before dispatch and yet is able to spot the phrasing of more complex queries for completion by call centre operators.

Using these solutions, the quality of answers improved to give a first-time resolution rate of 94%. With the reduced staff time involved, the cost per contact had been reduced from £4 to £2.

Stage 4: Compose response

Best practice is to use a library of pre-prepared templates for different types of query. These can then be tailored and personalised by the contact centre employee as appropriate. The right type of template can again be selected automatically using the software referred to in Stage 2. Through using such auto-suggestion, the Nationwide has seen e-mail handling times reduced by 25% for messages requiring adviser intervention. Sony Europe identifies all new support issues and adds them with the appropriate response to a central knowledge base.

Stage 5: Follow-up

Best practice is that if the employee does not successfully answer the first response, then the e-mail should suggest callback from an employee or a live-chat. Indeed, to avoid the problem of 'e-mail ping-pong' where several e-mails may be exchanged, the company may want to proactively ring the customer to increase the speed of problem resolution, and so solve the problem. Finally, the e-mail follow-up may provide the opportunity for outbound contact and marketing, perhaps advising about complementary products or offers.

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