Ambius is the world’s largest interior landscaping company. They wanted their 130-strong team in the UK to achieve even higher levels of customer service and asked us to help. We gave a half-day presentation on ‘Legendary Customer Service’ at their annual staff conference and then followed up with three two-day ‘train-the-trainer’ programmes for their managers around the country, to enable them to coach and train their staff themselves.
One of the Operations Managers commented:
‘Everything went really well and the teams have thoroughly enjoyed it and learnt a lot. The training was spot on and just what was required.’
And comments from the staff included:
‘Everyone achieved something regardless of their skill set when they arrived.’
‘I have learnt a lot from these two days. Full of content.’
‘It made me feel comfortable and able to do my job better, and gave me the tools to do it.’
‘Kept all interested despite varying levels of previous training.’
‘The relaxed atmosphere and the way the trainer coached rather than corrected in front of group.’
‘Very well controlled and handled.’
‘Gave me more confidence. As a nervous person that was very important.’
‘Learned new things and there were some good ideas.’
‘Much more fun than I had anticipated.’
Aramco, officially the Saudi Arabian Oil Company, is the world’s most valuable company, so we were delighted when they came to us for help. They were setting up a new Materials Supply Customer Care Center. The focus was on internal customer service but none of the staff being appointed to it had any prior customer service training or experience, so they were looking for a training package which would:
- enable the Center to operate smoothly from launch,
- ensure consistency of service levels during the first six months’ staffing-up phase,
- develop the Center staff’s core customer service skills in areas such as escalation, anger management, communication (particularly telephone) skills, assertiveness and superior customer care and
- help identify those individuals within the team who have potential for fast-track development.
We designed a highly bespoke three-day programme for them, which was delivered twice in Saudia Arabia over a six-month period. The day before the first ‘outing’ the trainer gave a two-hour presentation on supply chain management to all 50 staff, and the day before the second ‘outing’ he ran a one-day refresher course for the first group. The programmes were an outstanding success and the client was delighted.
Aylesbury College is a medium-sized further education college. To help support their ‘One College, One Team’ message, they asked us to kick off their annual staff development week with a tailored half-day presentation, delivered to half the 140 staff in the morning and the other half in the afternoon. The audience was a complete mix of academic and support staff. It was a huge success and a marked contrast, they told us, to their previous experiences of using external trainers.
Another conference-style presentation, this was a tailored day delivered by Cyrus Cooper (MD of our sister company, Maximum Performance). As usual, he managed to make it a fun, interactive session despite the size and varied backgrounds of the audience (all 45 staff).
Having previously delivered a very successful open course for DASA (the Domestic Appliance Service Association), we were invited to make a keynote presentation at the annual conference of The National Organisation of Installation and Service Engineers. One of their members was so impressed that they got us to train all their service partners (see the paragraph about Whirlpool, below).
Nuffield Wessex Hospital wanted a tailored half-day programme for all 160 staff, both clinical and support. Jocelyn Hughes was a great hit, as the feedback shows:
‘Efficient. Easy to listen to – also a good listener.’
‘Most professional – brilliant delivery!’
‘Very passionate, enthusiastic and a great communicator’
‘Fantastic and makes you think about how you do things’
‘Enjoyable, interactive session that exceeded expectation’
‘A fun informative course’
‘Well worth attending’
‘Excellent! Very informative. Everyone needs to do it…’
‘Excellent course well worth attending’
‘Much more interesting than anticipated’
‘A very good public speaker and knew her stuff’
‘Fantastic. Very informative, fun and interesting.’
‘Very sensible approach, backed up with facts and experience’
‘Would happily sit through a future seminar with Miss Hughes!’
‘Very good – engaging – easy to listen to – fun – described things in a way that I will remember’
‘Time very well spent’
‘Excellent, well delivered, easy to listen to’
‘Lovely and very easy to understand’
‘Good mix of learning and fun’
‘I’ve enjoyed today. It’s made me think of how I can improve my contact and delivery of customer care to improve patients’ stay or deal with problems more effectively.’
This project was slightly out of the ordinary. Open Text are one of the world’s largest Enterprise Information Management companies. They had 90 customer support staff in the UK, from a variety of backgrounds, whom they wanted to bring up to a uniform level of customer service delivery. They were looking for an interactive, bespoke half-day session, as part of an internal staff conference. To help make it sufficiently interactive we fielded a team of three trainers and they went down a storm. Three weeks later, we repeated the event for them for a similar size audience in their Munich operation, delivered in German – equally successfully – by three of our German trainers.
We’ve done a number of customer service programmes for the Open University. This one was a bit different. They’d set up a new department within Student Registration Services to deal mainly with email enquiries from current and prospective students. It’s a complex role for which they’d recruited a team of 35 with no prior experience of either the role or the Open University. Their existing induction programme was five weeks long. We were asked to re-design it as a three-week programme and to then deliver it, using two trainers. The trainers worked with OU staff to re-design and deliver the programme very successfully to a tight deadline. For operational reasons they needed the whole job finished within six weeks of picking up the phone to us. Needless to say, we got the job done to their complete satisfaction.
Another out of the ordinary assignment. A performance review had identified the need to improve the consistency and quality of customer relations across the Peak District National Park Authority (PDNPA). ‘Going the Extra Mile’ was an improvement project designed to achieve this. They were looking for:
‘An external provider to work closely with managers and staff acting as a ‘critical friend’ and learning provider. The provider will give ‘on the job’ support and constructively challenge where behaviour, attitudes and service outputs/processes are not customer focused. The role will be driven by the team action plans. It will actively promote understanding, stressing the importance of why we need to put customer service at the heart of everything we do.’
Our Manchester-based trainer / consultant, Melanie Windle, had exactly the sort of background and approach they were looking for and over the course of 18 months she made a huge difference to the organisation, to the complete satisfaction of the project stakeholder.
Our idea of a perfect project! The client had a very clear idea of what they wanted and the commitment to see it through quickly and efficiently. They wanted all 290 staff (from the Chief Executive down) to go through our core one-day programme, over a relatively short period of time. Our lead trainer, Jocelyn Hughes, kicked off with a day with the senior management team and then she, supported by two of our other trainers, Val Down and Deborah Herbert, delivered 19 one-day programmes to all staff over a four-week period. The programme was so successful that a few weeks later we were invited back to deliver the same training to the 80 on-site staff of their security contractor, G4S. Key features of the programme were that it was tailored to Port of Dover’s behavioural framework and that we captured for them all the output from the brain-storming sessions on what they were already brilliant at and where they felt they could do better. They’re all now hard at work implementing their ideas for improvement. A great result and outstanding value for money.
We do like to be beside the seaside! This was another very satisfying project to run, on much the same scale as Dover. Again, Red Funnel wanted to put all their staff (from the senior management team down) through a one-day programme. Our lead trainer, Jocelyn Hughes, tailored our ‘flagship’ programme for them slightly, ran a pilot programme for a representative sample audience to get some feedback, made a few minor changes and then, supported by one of our other trainers, Val Down, rolled the training out in thirty one-day programmes, mainly over the course of eight weeks but with some extra sessions a couple of months later for the newly appointed seasonal workers. In all, some 270 staff attended the training, of whom 98% said they would recommend it. The overall score from the participants was 94% and the client was very pleased. So were the participants, as the following selection of comments from them shows:
‘A lot better course than I’ve been to ever before. Learnt a lot about how to address situations.’
‘Well worth attending’
‘Very easy going trainer, not a boring monotonous voice’
‘Enjoyable and interesting – especially the body language bits’
‘The trainer is simply amazing’
‘A relaxed and fun course to go on’
‘Val was brilliant – she made this course fun and exciting’
‘Excellent trainer – she knew her stuff!’
‘I was very sceptical but enjoyed the course’
‘Very knowledgeable trainer and understanding of practically any situation. Familiarised herself with the way the company operates, therefore able to give valuable advice.’
‘Very informative and also fun’
‘Demonstrates in one simple course the message we have been trying to get across for years!’
‘Got the creative juices going!!’
‘Excellent trainer – knowledgeable and professional. Lots of experience and passionate about the subject’
‘I loved it’
‘Makes you stand back and think about your place and presence in the organisation’
‘Good way to refresh your customer care skills plus learn something new’
‘Big big thank you!’
‘There is more to learn about customer satisfaction than I thought and I am glad I did this course’
‘[The trainer had] amazing knowledge about Red Funnel’
‘I can see this is a great way for employers to make some very important changes to systems and working practices’
‘Lovely lady! Best course so far!’
‘Excellent trainer – understood the business and our needs’
‘A lot more useful than expected’
‘Makes you think about what you are doing. Gave a good insight to behaviour.’
‘Opens your eyes to things you have never thought of’
The reorganisation of the NHS has been a huge project, changing many people’s roles and making them newly aware of the need to ‘think customer’. WYCSS got the ball rolling with a couple of ‘Open Space’ events. We gave them this option as an alternative to a different requirement entirely, so we were very gratified when they took us up on this one too. And we’re very grateful to our facilitators for having taken the time to write it up in the following mini case study:
A huge amount of change is happening in the NHS. One of those changes is the setting up 20 Commissioning Support Services. The West Yorkshire Commissioning Support Service (WYCSS) covers 10 clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) and is having to shift its management and staff focus from being commissioners to providing a commissioning support service. This challenge encompasses many aspects, including people starting to reframe CCGs as ‘customers’ and starting to feel they are part of a business – one which can succeed or fail – depending on how good a job it does at meeting its customers’ needs.
Back in early 2012, many members of the teams coming together to form this new organisation felt disenfranchised and in the dark about what was happening. They felt that this was not what they joined the NHS to do and that the values they had signed up to would be lost in the pursuit of profit.
The senior management team wanted to engage their potential future team of over 500 people and start to shift their paradigm and mindset. The brief to us was for consultancy skills training and we won that piece of work through a competitive tender process. At the same time, however, we felt that the brief was only addressing part of the problem. We therefore submitted an alternative proposal for an Open Space event as ‘something very different’. It struck a chord and we got the go-ahead for two open space forums for potential future employees who wanted to contribute and really cared about making WYCSS a success. These two events provided the chance for these like-minded people to meet and discuss what needed to be done to make this happen.
What is Open Space?
Open Space is a meeting technology that is well researched. It has been used worldwide by multinational corporations and the not-for-profit sector alike. It is one way of enabling all kinds of people – in any kind of organisation – to co-create meetings and events that tap into their full potential and deliver peoples’ best work by giving participants the space to set the agenda and discuss what matters to them.
Open Space is an intentional leadership practice and drives the creation of inspired organisations where everyone works together to create extraordinary results with regularity. In Open Space meetings, events and organisations, between 5 and 2000 participants who volunteer to contribute their ideas and thinking come together and create and manage their own agenda of parallel working sessions around the central theme or question; one of strategic importance to the organisation. In WYCSS that question was:
‘How do we create an agile and commercially viable organisation which is a great place to work and that delivers outstanding services for our customers?’
The common result is powerful alignment of what is already happening with the strategic intent of the organisation and a strengthening of: planning and action; learning and doing; passion and responsibility, participation and performance.
For more information about Open Space, read more.
What we did
Preparation is a vital element of Open Space. Venue is critical; as is the framing of the right question or theme to be distributed to participants in advance.
We supported the WYCSS senior management team to create the right question. We advised on the ideal attributes of the Open Space venue and visited it with the management team. We also advised on all aspects of the event experience, including: wording in the invitation and how it should be disseminated and sold into potential participants; catering arrangements to fit with Open Space and to put people at ease; venue set up and provision of a set of ‘inspiration’ slide sets and upbeat music choices to be played in the venue as people arrived to create the right atmosphere.
Two days were held, in May 2012, attended by around 350 people in total. The sessions began with an introduction, led by an Open Space Facilitator who set out the process and the rules of engagement. This was then followed by the Interim Managing Director who spoke from the heart and shared her vision for the future.
Then the facilitators encouraged participants to volunteer to host ‘conversations’ over the rest of the day – 14 parallel sessions. Over the course of one hour, people suggested 46 ‘conversations’ and those who proposed them agreed to host them.
The facilitators ensured these all fitted and aligned to create a full day’s agenda so that those hosting several conversations could do so easily; and similar questions could be answered together in one group if participants agreed to that.
The participants then set their own agenda; decided what conversations they wanted to join and became a self-managing system for the rest of the day, with open space facilitators floating and supporting groups as needed. The self-nominated ‘hosts’ recorded their groups’ thoughts on flip charts and identified the 3 most important findings or recommendations to emerge from that conversation.
As soon as groups completed their conversations and work, their flipchart sheets were passed to a team of ‘scribes’ who transcribed everything on the flip charts so that by the end of the event everything written on the flip charts was captured.
After the event, the open space facilitators tidied up the 46 page report – being mindful to keep peoples’ exact words or meanings and at the same time ensuring that it all fitted together from a style perspective and could be contextualised by someone reading it with fresh eyes who had not attended the event. This report was then circulated, within a week, to everyone who attended.
The Open Space events ended with everyone gathering back together in the late afternoon and sharing what they had heard, felt, thought and seen during the day. The facilitators led this session and shared their own insights; as did the senior manager who sponsored the event.
What people in WYCSS said about our work
On the day, participants sent text messages in real time to share how they were feeling. Examples are given below:
‘I feel connected with colleagues – almost in a spiritual way. That is important.’
‘Isn’t it amazing how – when we have permission to act – we can achieve so much?’
‘What a great buzz! Lots of work going on!’
‘I am excited! Let’s make a change today!’
The senior management team who commissioned the work were delighted with the output and intend to apply other techniques that the facilitator team bring to the table in the future; as well as using Open Space again.
‘The West Yorkshire Commissioning Support Service is a new NHS organisation. It brings together 5 existing organisations. The leadership team wanted to bring together staff in a way that demonstrated to them that we were serious about listening to their views and enabling them to work in a different way. The Open Space events have signalled the beginning of a new era. Georgina and Dee from The In-House Training Company provided us with expert advice in the set up and expert facilitation on the actual days. Feedback from some of the 350 staff who attended has been fantastic in terms of how engaged they felt, how listened to, and that the way the events were staged enabled spontaneity and creativity to flourish. We have been delighted with the Open Space concept in practice and will be using it again.’ – Alison Hughes, Managing director (interim), West Yorkshire Commissioning Support Service.
Our Open Space facilitators were:
Georgina, a social entrepreneur whose business helps develop and embed person-centred management approaches within health and beyond. Georgina is working closely with a number of clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) to develop the innovative evidence-based ‘experience-led commissioning’ management model. Her work has won national recognition as best commissioning management practice. Georgina’s background is in commissioning policy, sales, marketing and communications. She has over twenty years’ experience of influencing commissioners and policy thinking – at both local and national level. Georgina sits on the NHS Alliance Executive and co-hosts its PPI Network.
Dee, a social entrepreneur who has worked at the cutting edge of social change, business development and major social intervention and implementation for the past 25 years across public, private and social sectors at senior levels. She understands how to grow successful social businesses, navigate barriers to change and achieve stakeholder buy-in. Dee is an expert in running Open Space Technology (OST) events. Dee advises NHS Global and a number of national think tanks. She advised the WHO implementing mental health service redesign of services across Europe.
This was a slightly unusual set-up, in that our client was initiating the training but the staff being trained work for other companies. Whirlpool, of course, make home appliances which are then installed and serviced by their ‘service partners’, a network of companies around the UK that do the installation and servicing on Whirlpool’s behalf and to standards set by Whirlpool. There was a need to ensure that service standards were consistent across all the companies, in all the regions. That’s where we came in. They also wanted to get some of the service engineers up-selling, so we tailored the core programme to Whirlpool’s specific requirements and also prepared additional materials (including engineers’ visits checklists and ‘product planners’) to help with the up-selling.
We kicked off with a two-day coaching programme for the customer support managers in Whirlpool’s own office (to ensure that all staff were speaking the same customer service language as the service engineers) and then delivered a roadshow of fourteen one-day programmes for the service engineers around the country (and, indeed, in Scotland and Ireland). Whirlpool were delighted that the overall score from the participants was 92% and with the feedback generally, which included numerous comments such as the following:
‘[The trainer was] down to earth and easy to work with’
‘Very humorous and informative’
‘Very good day’
‘Very interactive and engaging and great balance of work and humour’
‘Learned a lot, found it very informative’
‘Makes you think’
‘Very useful for engineers’
‘It’s strange what you think you know and don’t!’
‘Very passionate trainer’
‘Well worth the time spent’
‘An intriguing insight into customer care’
‘Brilliant. Not expecting much after doing the job nigh on 20 years. Eye-opener.’
‘Always interesting, even though I really didn’t expect to learn anything. Was very surprised.’
‘It brought a realisation that there is more to service then repairing the appliance’
‘Brilliant training will enforce brilliant customer service’
‘Opens your mind to different ideas’
‘Highly thought provoking and done in a low pressure environment’
‘Very professional and well presented. Love the fact that a lot of examples of situations were given.’
Our biggest project to date but, despite its scale, a surprisingly straightforward one for us. UKPN had a customer service programme designed and ready to roll but, not surprisingly with that number of staff, they need support in actually delivering it. In the end, we delivered the whole programme for them. They set the criteria for trainer selection, ran train-the-trainer sessions and co-ordinated a shadowing and assessment process. We supplied a team of 15 trainers and took care of the scheduling. Sessions were generally run in three different regions simultaneously, sometimes with short-notice rescheduling because of the nature of the business (most of the staff being trained were field engineers who had to be able to respond quickly to power supply problems caused by bad weather, flooding, etc). We also trained some of UKPN’s contractors. In all, we delivered some 300 days’ training over the course of a year. More than 90% of the participants said ‘the training would have a positive impact in their ability to provide great customer service’ and UKPN were very happy with the results.
From our biggest projects to our smallest. Vitality TV are a fun, vibrant outfit, making videos about healthy lifestyles. They were in start-up mode when they came to us, preparing for their first customers and wanting everything to be right first time. So, yes, this is the only customer service training we’ve done where the client hasn’t had any customers! The team of five thoroughly enjoyed their day with us and they’ve since gone from strength to strength (see their website here). They dropped him a kind note afterwards:
‘I just wanted to say thanks again for today. I don’t know if our feedback forms reflected it but the team and I were very impressed with you and the day – brilliant, empowering and motivating are some of the words that were used!’