Using systems thinking to improve customer satisfaction and employee engagement – Interview with Rob Brown of Aviva

THINK

Following on from my recent interview, Influence marketing, Klout, social scoring and why they are important – Interview with Mark Schaefer, today I want to share with you an interview that I conducted with Rob Brown, Systems Thinking Director at Aviva, who has done some great work using system thinking and has had fantastic results in improving customer satisfaction, the delivery of customer service and employee engagement.

I met Rob when he spoke at a systems thinking event hosted by John Seddon and Vanguard Consulting.

This interview makes up number thirty-five in the series of interviews with authors and business leaders that are doing great things and helping create businesses that customers love.

Note: Before we get stuck into the interview, here’s an article: What is the Difference between Lean and Systems Thinking, that is worth reading.

Below are highlights from our interview:

  • Aviva started to use systems thinking in 2008.
  • The problem they had to solve was to figure out how to be more efficient in what they did. However, what they found was that whatever they did their service was getting worse. Therefore, they decided that they needed to try something different.
  • Consequently, they came across a company called Vanguard, lead by John Seddon, and all they do is advocate the Vanguard Method of Systems Thinking. They started to work with them and some senior managers in the business to figure out how to apply the method to the Pensions area of the business.
  • By focusing on what matters to customers and removing ‘work’ that isn’t of value to customers that they were able to increase efficiency, improve satisfaction and provide the customers with a better deal and service.
  • The way the method works is to put the methodology in the hands of front-line staff, who are dealing with customers directly, so that they can make the necessary changes and improvements to service as they have a better sight of the problems that customers face.
  • As a result of doing that employee morale and engagement improved too.
  • Following the success of the pilot in the Pensions area this method has now been applied across all of the customer facing operations in the UK.
  • They found that if they took an internal, process led view and tried just to improve that then customers invariably called back.
  • However, taking a customer led view and using the methodology has resulted in many back-offices procedures being moved into the hands of the front line staff so that they can directly attend to and solve customers problems.
  • This has meant that they have been able to reduce complaints, reduce the number of customers calling back and improve satisfaction whilst also reducing the cost and need for resourcing for these issues.
  • Customer satisfaction where this methodology has been implemented has improved significantly and is now in the region of 80-90%, whereas employee morale/engagement is now 70% where it was below 50% before.
  • This has also allowed them to save tens of millions around the business where this methodology has been implemented.
  • It is, however, a continuous and evolutionary process and they are still learning and developing all of the time.
  • Historically, we believed that giving customers whatever they wanted was expensive. However, the counter intuitive truth is that giving customers what they want in the way that they want it is more efficient and better for the business.
  • Ultimately, the method advocates looking at your business through a customers perspective, identifying and focusing on the things that the customers value and removing everything else.
  • However, albeit a common sense approach to business, this is a radical way of approaching the design when compared to how most organisations are run. So, the brave bit is at the start and is to take the method and see if it works for your type of business.
  • The risk of doing or trying something new is managed as within the method there is an element that means that you always pilot, learn and collect data so that you can prove the business benefit of continuing.
  • The key difficulty is getting leadership and senior managers to experience and see the benefits for themselves rather than just being told about it.
  • The frontline teams tend to think that this method is a ‘no-brainer’ as they tend to know what the problems are and what you are giving them is a method to correct the problems and that is what drives the improvement in engagement.

About Rob (taken from his Linked In profile)

Rob Brown Aviva

An accountant by profession, Rob has been at Aviva for over 20 years. He is now Global Systems Thinking lead for Aviva and his role is to:

  • Identify global customer approaches and business synergies,
  • Ensure customer experience exhibits Aviva brand values while improving efficiency; and
  • Drive innovative thinking across the Aviva Group

You can connect with Rob on Linked In here.

Thanks to technovore for the image.

Comments

  1. Hello Adrian
    Thanks for sharing this. I have been aware of John Seddon and The Vanguard Method after reading John’s book Freedom From Command & Control. I loved the title and ended up loving the approach, the method.

    I did not know that Aviva are using this method. Clearly, any organisation that has a large call centre will benefit and in a big way. The interesting thing I came across is that often the call-centres are outsourced. And the outsourced companies are paid per seat. So they have no incentive to implement the Vanguard Method, to take the ‘systems’ approach!

    Maz

    • Hi Maz,
      Interesting indeed. I never understood a lot of the outsourcing thing, particularly when it comes to call-centres. I mean, why would you want to outsource responsibility for your brand or customer touchpoints?

      Adrian

  2. Nice post. If you want to find out more about self development check out mu blog: http://www.developingmyself.blogspot.com

  3. Adrian,

    Interesting interview.

    If that is an approach that your readers are interested in than I’d thoroughly recommend they attend one of the courses run by the Deming transformation forum http://www.transformationforum.org/

    As for the difference between systems thinking and lean (and 6 sigma and and and) I can’t help but think it is in the application, and not the intent, but that doesn’t sell consulting. Or as Dilbert would say http://dilbert.com/strips/comic/2001-10-03/

    James

    • Hi James,
      Thanks for that recommendation for courses.

      I wanted to point out the difference between systems thinking and lean but did not want that to be the focus of the interview. What I found interesting was how a large company took a different approach and how it has been applied to generate some fantastic results in what could traditionally be seen as quite a non-flexible industry.

      Agree?

      Adrian

  4. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on customer service. The company I work for has recently invested in call recording software which was easily set up over the existing telephone line. It has improved the businesses performance as a whole, ensuring all customers are satisfied.

  5. this is exactly why I introduced call recording into my business, it increases productivity and gives me an extra layer of security

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