Homing in on customer service

Covea Insurance is a significant player in the UK market, with 1.9 million policyholders and £739 million in premiums, in 2017. If the name isn’t familiar to you, the reason is probably because Covea mainly sells its policies through brokers and intermediaries rather than direct to consumers. It also underwrites the insurance cover provided by many big names within the retail and insurance industry.

The group has been in business for over 50 years and the parent company is a French mutual insurance group – the largest French insurer in France, where 1 in 4 customers has a policy with Covea.

In the UK, its operations are also extensive, employing over 1,600 staff with three main sites in Halifax, Reading and West Malling, in Kent. It offers a range of products including commercial, motor, life, high net worth, property and protection insurance. For motor insurance, it sells a lot of business through one of its subsidiary brands, Provident, which has begun to market its policies directly to consumers.

It was on the motor side that the company first established its relationship with The Institute of Customer Service, becoming members in 2010 and working towards ServiceMark accreditation in Motor Claims Operations - which it successfully achieved in 2013 and then regained accreditation in 2016.

Setting up a home for customer service 

Another part of the business that has well and truly embraced the customer service agenda is the home insurance claims department. The organisation took the decision to bring its claims management in-house rather than running it through an external claims management company, and when Kelly Morris joined as Senior Home Claims Manager she had the brief to recruit, train and provide the tools for a new claims department. 

“I could see the value of the work the motor team was doing with The Institute,” Kelly says. “I needed to set up a new department and create a customer-centric culture and I could see that the ServCheck survey of staff that is part of ServiceMark sets exactly the right agenda. It really rang true. To achieve excellent customer service, you have to get it right internally first. It was about setting off on a journey to create the right culture. If you get the culture right, it breeds a customer-centric approach and ServCheck and ServiceMark became really important features of establishing the culture and ethos of our in-house home insurance claims department.”

The process worked out very well, with the home insurance team achieving ServiceMark accreditation in 2015 – and becoming the only home claims department in the UK to achieve a distinction.   

A growing agenda 

Indeed, since then the ServiceMark agenda has spread even further through the organisation, with the company’s personal lines department (including the sales and renewals teams as well as claims) recently beginning its work towards accreditation. This will be the biggest accreditation to date, as the entire personal lines team comprises over 500 staff - no small feat!

“Ultimately, our aim is to get the whole of Covea in the UK accredited,” Kelly says. “It’s something we’re working towards. ServiceMark has support at Board level, with our Claims and Operations Director, Adrian Furness, being instrumental in driving it forward.”

Tangible benefits

So what have the benefits been of putting parts of the business through ServiceMark?

For Kelly, there have been plenty of upsides. “Working towards accreditation has been beneficial on many levels. As more parts of the organisation have come on board, it has helped different departments work together and increased understanding between them. Staff have become very engaged and involved. It has also helped us look at how we work and make some important improvements to the way we deliver service to the customer. For example, in the home team we realised that we needed to take an even more proactive approach when managing a customer’s claim. So we now have a system where we contact the suppliers involved in a claim (for example, the company that is going to fix or replace a damaged item) and make sure everything is on track, before we have our regular call to the customer. That way, customer contact is not just ticking a box but becomes much more meaningful. It’s part of our ‘make every touch meaningful’ approach.”

The benefits are evident in the statistics too. Before Covea insourced household claims, the home insurance team’s Net Promoter Score was 3.8. Now, it’s 58.8 – a huge increase. Results have continued to improve. For example, in the first accreditation, the department’s customer survey score was 86.1, but this has risen to 90 at the latest interim survey.

“Our journey with The Institute has definitely supported the improvement in our results and has been a real proof of concept for our very different approach to the industry standard,” Kelly says. 

Taking a wider perspective 

It’s not just about ServiceMark, though, with the organisation getting involved in a number of Institute events such as the annual conference and various roundtables. In fact, Covea hosted an Institute Member Forum at its offices in Halifax showcasing the journey they have been on at Covea and the link between employee engagement and customer satisfaction and loyalty. 

Kelly says: “We were joined by approximately 30 other members, where The Institute also presented new research on the correlation on engagement and customer experience, and we also had time to run some workshops allowing groups from a variety of different types of organisation to share their ideas in relation to customer experience. 

“These practical examples are where we, as Covea, have always found the most benefit from attending other Institute events and roundtables. 

“These events enable us to get an insight into how other businesses are approaching the customer service agenda, including companies from different sectors,” Kelly reflects. “It helps us break out of our insurance bubble. We are all striving to emulate customer service leaders such as Amazon and John Lewis to name just a couple, and to do that you’ve got to get a wider perspective.”

And what tips or guidance does Kelly have for other organisations that might be considering accreditation?

“Make it fun!” she says. “It should be an enjoyable process as well as a challenging one. When we started our personal lines accreditation, we had green and white balloons in the office (after The Institute colours) and encouraged people to wear green and white to work. Secondly, make sure you act on the feedback you receive, from both staff and customers and keep your promises. You need to take a ‘you said/we did’ approach to show that you are listening and bring everyone on board. Finally, remember it’s a journey – it takes time to change or establish a new culture. It’s not something that happens over night, but it’s absolutely worth the effort.”