21st Feb 2017
The personal finance sector doesn’t exactly have the best reputation when it comes to great customer service. From the extortionate rates of payday lenders to the still-ongoing saga of PPI (payment protection insurance), it’s a sector that often hits the headlines for the wrong reasons.
Enter Hitachi Capital Consumer Finance (HCCF) – a company committed to changing customers’ perceptions of the sector. Under the leadership of managing director Gerald Grimes, the firm has become the UK’s number one point-of-sale finance provider, thanks to a service customers can rely on.
It all started several years ago when Grimes, conscious of the dubious reputation of the market in which HCCF was trying to grow, sought advice from a consultant.
“He said, why don’t you just do what you say you’re going to do? And I thought, am I paying for this advice?” Grimes recalls with a laugh. “But actually, that’s what we do. We do get the money to customers on time and we do give them a fast, more accurate service.”
The business collects customer scores and comments through Feefo, a multi-sector feedback engine not unlike TripAdvisor. “The Feefo feedback that we get tells us every day what we’re doing right and what we’re doing wrong,” says Grimes.
There can’t be too much going wrong, at the moment: on the basis of more than 5,700 reviews, Hitachi Personal Finance (the company’s direct-to-consumer business) has an average score of 4.9 out of 5.0, while almost 94% of customers have given it top marks. The scores offer vindication of a business strategy that's built on a few simple principles: products that are fairly priced, simple to understand and easy to execute.
There’s no ambition to be the cheapest. “We choose to do business at a price that we can afford so that we’re not compromising on anything,” says Grimes, who emphasises that it’s customer service that drives the group’s financial performance. “If you run a business to delight customers then success follows,” he maintains.
For HCCF, that success has been with businesses such as B&Q, Wickes and Furniture Village, which use the company as a lender to offer a service to their customers. Grimes and his team have switched from treating the finance director at these and other retailers as the customer, and instead treat the retailers’ customers as though they are HCCF’s customers too. “The better service we give them, the more delighted the intermediary is,” he explains.
One retail win Grimes is particularly proud of is John Lewis. “You can imagine the due diligence we went through in order to be a provider to John Lewis – predominantly in their customer service expectations,” he says.
All this has been achieved using the same management team. “We’re very lucky because we’ve got everybody under one roof here,” says Grimes. “We can sit down together any time we like. And if we want to put some changes into a product, we can discuss those in the morning and they can be in place in the afternoon.”
That ability to act swiftly is allied to a structure that ensures any problems that arise are dealt with in the right way. Each product line has its own operating board, and any issues are escalated up to the leadership team for discussion if required.
And, refreshingly in a sector in which the 2008 financial crisis highlighted the unethical practices of a number of high-profile firms, HCCF refuses to put profits ahead of integrity, adds Grimes.
“With our Japanese heritage and our own integrity, we are not driven entirely by the performance of the business,” he says. “Of course we’re a commercial organisation, but if we were to choose between not missing our profit numbers and having an ethical business, I know which way we’d go.”