As autumn advances and the nights draw in, we all begin to switch our heating on to take the chill out of the air. But instead of wall-mounted radiators, more are turning on underfloor heating – a system that emits an even warmth through the floor.
It’s something that’s becoming more widespread, and not only with more people pursuing self-build dreams of the type made popular by the TV show Grand Designs. It’s more affordable than some might think, costing around the same as luxury radiators, is more efficient and does away with those irritating cold spots!
Based in Honiton, Devon, Nu-Heat is the UK’s largest supplier of designed underfloor heating systems. The company started out in 1992 employing just a handful of people and is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year with a team of more than 100. With over 70,000 systems installed, the company has also branched out into integrated renewables such as heat pumps and solar thermal systems.
Nu-Heat designs bespoke systems for each project, working from house plans, and as well as single new build or renovation jobs, also works on bigger trade and commercial developments. The company works with a network of registered installers around the country.
Customer service journey
Customer service has always been important to the company and in 2014 it formalised this by becoming a member of the Institute of Customer Service.
Christian Oram, Sales and Marketing Manager at Nu-Heat, explains: “We’ve always looked at the customer service journey throughout the process from first contact through to completion of a job. We pride ourselves on being an ethical sales company that takes a very consultative approach. The industry has become more competitive over the years and we realised that bringing customer service to the forefront of what we do will improve customer satisfaction and give us a real competitive advantage. It is another way we can stand out from the crowd. The difference between eight out of ten and nine out of ten for customer satisfaction is huge.”
On joining the Institute, Nu-Heat ran an initial benchmarking survey both externally and internally. The external results were pleasing, with a customer satisfaction score of 84.6%. Internally, however, it was much lower at 62.7%.
“We realised that we had much more to do on the internal side,” Christian says. “Whether we were just being too harsh on ourselves, or whether we were not in fact communicating well enough through the company about the emphasis we place on customer service, it gave us the spur to up our efforts. So we began to increase the visibility of our customer service policies and processes, including beginning a formal feedback process internally for service challenges and successes.”
Steering a path
That wasn’t all the company did, though.
“We also set up a Customer Service Steering Group, made up of Board members and senior management (including myself). The Steering Group sets strategy, looks at high level customer service challenges and discusses root causes. Then we created a Customer Service Focus Group made up of people from across departments to develop and implement any changes to our processes. In addition, we created internal customer service champions, started a recognition scheme and began sending out monthly customer feedback emails to all of our people.”
Nu-Heat then worked towards The Institute’s ServiceMark accreditation, and successfully gained it in December 2016. It is the only heating company in the UK to hold the accolade. Not only that, but the company achieved a Distinction – one of only a handful of companies in any sector to do so.
The company’s external score had risen to 88.8% - a satisfying increase given that it was already starting from a high score – while the internal score shot up to 88.9%.
The ‘9 out of 10’ goal
“We were very pleased with this,” Christian says, “but we want to keep pushing ourselves to do better! We’d love to get to 90%. That’s why we’ve now embraced a ‘9 out of 10’ initiative where every member of staff sets themselves an improvement goal that would help us get to that 9 out of 10 score. It can be something big or small. For example, my first one was ‘Don’t interrupt people’ as I had a habit of doing that! My current one is ‘Establish a structure and process so everyone in my team is clear what their role is’. People have really embraced it well.”
Since joining The Institute, the customer service ethos has become firmly embedded in the company. Through following the advice of their Client Services Director at The Institute, every member of Christian’s 40-strong Sales and Marketing team, for example, has a customer service objective amongst their 4 or 5 key personal performance objectives for the year. The company’s HR manager has also become an accredited trainer to deliver The Institute’s FirstImpressions customer service training programme, and all of Nu-Heat’s people have been through it.
“We’ve caught the training bug now!” Christian laughs. “FirstImpressions was our first company-wide learning and development training and now we’re rolling out leadership training too.”
The company also actively participates in National Customer Service Week (1st week of October) with a variety of team-building and recognition activities through the week.
“We’ve taken part for the last three years now,” Christian says. “It’s something we look forward to and everyone can enjoy.”
Christian is also clear that there has been a real return on investment for Nu-Heat from working with The Institute. The company has grown market share steadily through the last three years. Externally, repeat business on the trade side has grown by around 15%. Internally, as engagement scores have risen so sick leave has dropped significantly – down by around a half.
“There’s no doubt that membership has been really good for us. We make the most of it, with our ServiceMark Distinction accreditation on all our quotes, our website, our brochures and our trade show stands. Customers notice it and comment on it. It’s a point of differentiation, a real USP.”
Internally too, it has proved its worth.
“People like working for a company that is genuinely trying to be the best it can be. They want to be a part of that and are motivated when they can see you are listening to them and valuing their point of view.”