Motability: from excellent to outstanding

Motability provides cars, Wheelchair Accessible Vehicles, scooters and powered wheelchairs to some 640,000 people – and has arguably the highest performing customer service team in the UK. But it was not always this way. Motability’s journey has taken considerable commitment, and a willingness to think beyond convention.

Since 1978, Motability Operations has delivered the Motability Scheme – offering freedom to people with disabilities by enabling to them use their mobility allowance to lease an affordable, worry-free vehicle.  Today, Motability provides cars, Wheelchair Accessible Vehicles, scooters and powered wheelchairs to some 640,000 people – and has arguably the highest performing customer service team in the UK.

But it was not always this way. Motability’s journey has taken considerable commitment, and a willingness to think beyond convention.

The whole culture needed to shift

As recently as 2003, Motability Operations was – by its own admission – struggling. Its vehicle fleet was static at around 450,000, and poor financial performance threatened the organisation’s very existence.  Customer contacts manager Emma Bird explains: “Back then, we were focused more on cars than customers, and our satisfaction levels, renewal rates and overall profitability reflected that.”  Recently-appointed CEO Mike Betts saw that things needed to change, and fast.

Emma continues: “Mike believed that in order for Motability Operations to be successful, the whole culture of the organisation needed to shift. But twelve years ago, putting the customer first was not commonplace, and such a radical shift needed an equally robust change programme.”

Lovers, not fakers

The crucial first step was to address culture: recruit team members with the right values, and empower them to focus on the customer first.  Emma explains: “Current employees assist with recruitment to ensure we employ ‘lovers not fakers’ – that is, team members who want to do the right thing, rather than doing it just because they’ve been told to.”

“We set out a plan to recognise and reward people with empathy, who take responsibility during calls,” Emma continues. “We allowed them to make real decisions based on their discussion with the customer – even if it forced up average handling times.”

“Now, calls are focused on where the customer is at emotionally, understanding what the call is really about before going into solutions.  General Manager David Walsh agrees: “We’re a principle-led, not a process-led organisation. You can’t write processes for every situation, so we instill principles in people and give them a free hand to apply them.”

Bring out your dead

The emphasis on personal responsibility extends to development and performance management, where Motability employs a ‘Trinity Model’, involving the advisor, a coach, and a team manager.  Emma explains: “Self-assessment is fundamental; our team managers’ main role is to enable people to become more self-managing, and the quality, attendance and adherence targets follow naturally.”

David adds: “Trying to find development needs from six calls is pointless. If the person who takes the calls can be aware of their performance and come to coaching having identified for themselves the things they struggle with, that works much better.

“We have a process called ‘bring out your dead’. If a call’s gone badly, people don’t hide it – they highlight it, and we don’t use it for performance management; it’s used for development.”

Independent and robust

As the unorthodox approach began to take effect, Motability Operations looked for ways to benchmark its progress – and arrived at the Institute of Customer Service, and its ServiceMark accreditation process.  David recalls: “By 2010, we wanted to see how our results compared to the industry, so we entered call centre awards and came top in our sector, second overall and best newcomer.

“That was great, but awards aren’t always transparent about how the scores are achieved – so we looked for an accrediting body with real credibility across a wide range of industry sectors. It had to survey both customers and employees, and it had to include an audit process that was independent and robust. The Institute of Customer Service stood out.”

Doubts just evaporate

Meanwhile, Motability’s ServiceMark performance has helped in negotiations, and lent credibility at a pivotal time. “There’s been a lot of public scrutiny about benefits lately,” says David. “Our strong ServiceMark performance has really helped to protect our brand.

“Many of the banks that own us are pursuing ServiceMark themselves, so our score gives us a lot of credibility. It’s very widely recognised as a high quality standard –when we put our ServiceMark score on the table, any questions or doubts just evaporate.”

More understanding

Beyond top-level performance figures, the Institute is helping Motability to assess its performance on hard-to-find, operational KPIs.  David says: “We’ve been to a lot of the Institute’s workshops and seminars – which are great for networking and sharing information. It can be hard to find out how the industry is performing on very specific, operational-level KPIs. Through the network, we can get more understanding about how our performance compares.”

“It’s a good partnership. The Institute Account Directors are very good at sourcing information for us. Also, we’re now able to access further surveys, which we’re using to drill down and seek further improvements by comparing groups of customers to the population overall.”

From strength to strength

In 2015, Motability Operations underwent the ServiceMark process for a second time – achieving the UK’s highest ever scores for both customer and employee satisfaction, with an exceptionally high Net Promoter score of 94.2.  David smiles: “Right now, we’re the highest performing customer service team in the UK; the Net Promoter score was off the scale. We’ve gone from strength to strength.”

“Going from good to excellent is hard, but going from excellent to outstanding is harder,” reflects Emma.  
One group, however, has benefited more than any other from the changes at Motability Operations: its customers.  “We never forget that we’re fortunate to be delivering the product we are,” concludes David.

“Some of our customers were previously housebound. So when you go home at the end of the day, you can sometimes say ‘we changed somebody’s life today’… and that’s pretty good.”