Differentiating through customer service

With data privacy and protection an increasingly high profile issue, services for secure disposal of information are in high demand. It’s a competitive marketplace. One organisation that has put customer service at the heart of its strategy to differentiate itself and gain a competitive advantage is Restore Datashred.

Part of AIM-listed Restore plc, Restore Datashred employs around 400 people and operates 13 ‘destruction centres’ around the UK where paper records are securely destroyed. The company also disposes of hard drives and computers, although a ‘wipe and recycle’ service is separately offered by another division within the Group. Around 250 staff are drivers, collecting materials from customers, with the rest being depot operatives, customer service staff at a call centre in Purfleet in Essex as well as other admin staff, and a telesales operation in Manchester.

‘Symbolising what we believe in'

It was in 2012 that the shredding business, then owned by a different group, was first asked to take part in an Institute of Customer Service survey. The score was good - and the company decided that it could put itself forward for one of The Institute’s flagship accreditations, ServiceMark.

Commercial Director Debbie Pugh explains: “We realised that we had a high enough score to take ServiceMark on and that it would be a great way of testing whether we were as good as we thought we were! We could see that obtaining the accreditation would be a massive differentiator for us, something that could become an important part of our marketing strategy. But perhaps more importantly, we could see that the discipline of doing ServiceMark would help us get a framework in place for what good customer service looks like and embedding it across the whole organisation so that it encompasses all parts of the business. It would become a badge that symbolises everything we believe in.” Restore Datashred was successful in obtaining ServiceMark in 2012 and achieved reaccreditation in 2015. It is the only shredding provider in the UK to hold the accreditation, which involves three elements: an employee survey, a survey of customers, and an assessment by an independent assessor from The Institute of Customer Service.

‘A challenging process’

As Customer Experience Manager at Restore Datashred, Helen Prentice has been integrally involved with the accreditation. So how did they find the ServiceMark process?

“It can be quite challenging,” she says, “especially as we have depots across the country so the workforce is geographically spread. The main challenge was getting everyone to see that ‘customer service’ is not just something that happens in the customer service centre - it happens everywhere. So it was about getting the drivers to make the connection, to see that what they do on a daily basis is customer service. We went out around the country doing presentations and workshops in every depot. That worked really well - it helped people see the importance of what they do, which is quite empowering. “It was a lot of work, but you learn as you go along, you adapt and change your approach as you need to.”

Learnings and benefits

A number of useful learnings have also come out of the process. Helen explains: “Our customer survey results were actually higher than our employee survey, with customers scoring us 81.6 [out of 100] and employees 75.9, but one area for further work that the customer survey highlighted was to improve the way we recorded complaints when there were any. We were dealing with complaints effectively, but not recording them well enough. So we changed that and now have a system where complaints are detailed together with a record of what was done about it and then, crucially, a follow-up happens with the customer about a month later to re-engage with them and make sure everything is still OK. We don’t just make the assumption that they are happy - we go that little bit further and check back in with them.”

The process generated some internal learnings too. Debbie says: “It made us realise that not everyone knows what you think they know. For example, in the employee survey it asks whether they think the Board discusses customer service. I was expecting 100% of people would say ‘yes’. But they didn’t. That showed us we had more to do to communicate about both the Board and the way that customer service is a key strategic issue for us.”

There have been clear external benefits too. Apart from providing a strong marketing message, the ServiceMark accreditation has helped the company in tenders because it has given them a higher Quality score. With regard to the ServiceMark accreditation Helen says: “We have highlighted a unique selling point within our bids and tenders; demonstrating proven excellence in customer service from an independent body; and since achieving the accreditation our quality score has improved over 15%.”

Everyone is responsible

But despite all the advantages, Debbie is clear that taking ServiceMark is not for the faint-hearted:

“ServiceMark sets a high bar. There’s nowhere to hide with the survey responses! The standards are tough to achieve and if you take your foot off the gas, it will be reflected in the results. With a business like ours, that is quite regularly acquiring other smaller businesses, you have an influx of new staff periodically so another challenge is making sure they all get the service culture. It’s a process of constant education - you’ve got to appreciate that things don’t just stand still.”

It seems that Restore Datashred is certainly on the right track, with the company’s scores improving quite significantly between 2012 and 2015. Back then, employees scored 66.6 out of 100 - and three years later that had risen to 75.9. Customer satisfaction also rose - from 75.9 to 81.6 in the same timeframe. They are now set to go for the next reaccreditation in 2018.

It’s not only about ServiceMark, though. The company has also run FirstImpressions customer service training sessions for staff as well as a number of managers taking the ServiceManagement course. More broadly, they are in the midst of rolling out more training for drivers and depot staff through a mix of video materials, e-learning and assessment quizzes.

They have also incorporated customer service criteria and measurements into their recruitment process - to ensure that new staff are suited to the service culture. All in all, the company has fully embraced the service agenda. As Debbie says: “There is no one who isn’t responsible for customer service.”