From detox diets to pro-biotic yoghurts, the message that what’s inside affects what is happening outside is everywhere – and it is one that businesses are adopting as well.
It hasn’t reached the level of force-feeding staff Actimel, but a focus inside the business on ensuring staff are happy can pay dividends in the outside world. So when it came to a fundamental review of customer service at Hitachi Capital Vehicle Solutions, the company turned to its staff first.
Beginning in July, it commissioned an independent survey of staff, combined with customer interviews, to provide feedback on various aspects of its service and performance.
Feedback from this was used at a managers’ conference in November, when managers were invited to give presentations on how their teams could ‘make a difference’ for the customer.
At the same time, every member of the firm’s 200 staff went through a new nine-day customer service training programme, including managing director Simon Oliphant.
A key driver behind the development of the programme was the firm’s new head of customer service, Fleet News award-winning fleet manager Graham Hine, who as facilities manager at the Adult Learning Inspectorate won Fleet Manager of the Year (101-400 vehicles) in 2003.
Hine, formerly fleet manager for the Adult Learning Inspectorate, joined Hitachi earlier this year.
A key part of his role has been to look at the way the company operates from the viewpoint of a customer and provide an independent view on where potential improvements can be made.
He said: ‘We believe the morale and performance of our staff are intrinsically linked to customer service. It is important for us to know what our staff are feeling and what was our customers’ experience of the service we deliver.
‘The in-house developed training was designed to supply employees with the skills and techniques to deliver excellent customer service.’
The staff focus did not end with the training session. Hitachi trained 12 employees to become coaches and their role will be to support every member of staff, check that the skills and techniques are being used and that individuals have a personal action plan for further development.
Managing director Simon Oliphant said: ‘The combination of these and other initiatives has had an almost instantaneous impact, with staff morale and motivation improving by more than 70%. Business retention is at 100% and there is increased new business with existing customers.’
Looking forward, the firm has developed improvement programmes which bring together employees from different departments into focus groups.
They meet on a regular basis and form workshops to identify areas for improvement, agree standards for change and draw up action plans to implement the improvements.
The firm is a specialist in both car and van leasing and it is in the commercial vehicle market that one of its biggest successes has come.
When a customer asked the firm to provide a new commercial vehicle for the fleet, executives at Hitachi asked what it would be used for and questioned whether the specification was right.
Oliphant added: ‘We created a different specification for the vehicle and it saved the firm £2 million a year in additional vehicle requirements.
‘Customers may come to us and say ‘this is the vehicle I want’ but we ensure that we ask ‘what do you want to use it for?’
‘Car and commercial vehicles are different propositions so you need specialist vehicle knowledge.’
A key part of Hitachi’s expertise comes from the acquisition of Trowbridge Vehicle Rentals in 2001 for £4 million, which added specialist commercial vehicle contract hire to the firm’s range of services.
Oliphant said: ‘Fleet managers come from all backgrounds in modern companies, so they may be in finance, HR or another department. They are busy people and the help and information we give them should be focused on adding value and enabling them to do their jobs more efficiently.’
A key part of the training programme put in place is making sure the technology used to keep costs down – along with leasing rates – when dealing with customers does not impact on the service they receive.
With 202 employees, there is now one member of staff for every 200 vehicles operated, while in 1991, there were just 96.