Gary Price, Norwich Union Director of Customer Service Implementation
Whichever IFA surveys you read, one issue consistently ranks highly among advisers concerns – the quality of service from life and pensions providers. Service is seen as an increasingly important component in advisers’ choice of provider, a trend that looks set to continue as new entrants in the market and e-commerce developments increase expectations.
But what exactly are providers doing to response to this challenge? I want to explain how Norwich Union has responded to make it easier to do business with us.
Listening to our customers
In 2005 we embarked on a major program to improve the service we offered. We started by listening to advisers, having a total of more than 11,000 research conversations in the process. As you would expect, requirements were clearly articulated; you wanted a fast, reliable service from people that understood both the industry and advisory businesses. Providing a faster turnaround was only one part of the issue – we needed to clearly communicate to advisers and clients what turnaround to expect, and consistently deliver within that timescale.
Making and keeping promises
Our first step was to take a close look at our processes, cutting-out unnecessary steps and simplifying them to reduce the paper trail. These cleaner and clearer processes proved to be both faster but more consistent, giving us the confidence to make stronger commitments about our turnaround times.
Since then we have launched service promises on investment bonds, protection and pensions - a range that we are actively seeking to expand. Are we keeping them? In more than 99% of cases we are, and we are closely tracking the other 1% to understand why not. The discipline of making service promises and then reviewing and reporting our performance ensures we focus on continuous improvement.
Investing in people
Investment in people is central to our vision. Whilst this may not bring the quick results that process re-engineering can, quality people are the key driver of long-term success. People that intimately understand the products and have a good grasp of how the industry works are able to identify and resolve the issues that really matter. A truly customer-led culture can only exist where every member of staff has an inbuilt understanding of that customer and the pressures they face.
Following phenomenal interest from staff, we are enrolling 2000 in the CII Financial Services Academy, sponsored by Norwich Union. The course is designed to give a formal understanding of products, the industry and regulation. We believe that this initiative, in combination with improved in-house training, will significantly improve the quality of your day-to-day contact with Norwich Union.
Simplifying our legacy
The scale of life offices is one of the main reasons for their success, using their financial strength to make major investments in e-commerce platforms and product development. Many providers, including Norwich Union, achieved this scale through mergers and acquisition. This left a legacy of computer systems and products of previous firms that take significant resource to maintain, and add to the complexity of servicing our customers.
Simplifying this legacy has been one of key priorities, and in April we signed a deal with Swiss Re to migrate 3million legacy products onto their single platform. Swiss Re’s established systems expertise and strong customer service ethic made them our first choice. It is important to note that we are not delegating responsibility for advisers and clients – they will continue to be actively served by Norwich Union. This deal is a major step forward for Norwich Union, enabling us to decommission 220 systems and focus on developing our core product platforms.
The feedback on our performance so far has been positive, although we recognise there is still much more to do. By simplifying operations and investing in people we believe we have a solid platform to begin challenging the notion that dealing with a Life Office can never be easy. To do this we are looking beyond the Life industry for examples of what good service is, whether in banking, retail or travel. These industries set your clients’ expectations, making it vital for us to keep pace with the latest developments. We are also in continuous dialogue with advisers, clients and distributors to understand how they want to work with us in the future.
Based on adviser feedback, our key themes for development are:
- Providing a one-stop service for simple queries
- Providing dedicated case-owners with specialist knowledge for more complex requests
- Keeping our promises
- Using e-commerce to reduce form-filling and increase access to information
We are committed to maintaining the pace of improvement - advisers and clients can look forward to more progress in 2007 and beyond.
To find out more about Norwich Union’s service plans and promises, visit
If you have any feedback on Norwich Union’s service, please e-mail [email protected]
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