Many organisations make bold claims on the website or on social media about how good they are at customer service, but how do they prove it? How can they show that their customers truly are at the forefront of their thoughts?
When Denise Crossley, CEO of Lantern Debt Recovery Services, took on the challenge of improving the culture in a credit services company she had one heartfelt belief; that there was a better way to help customers face up to the problem of being in debt. Throwing away the rule book, Denise immediately introduced The Lantern Promise, making a commitment to be Honest; Empathetic; Accountable; Reasonable and Transparent, guaranteeing to put customers at the heart of her business.
Denise’s other belief was that talk is cheap. It’s one thing to say what you want to do, but how do you actually do it, and do it consistently?
The starting point was to discover exactly what she was up against, so Denise commissioned Customer Experience experts, Investor in Customers (IIC) to conduct a comprehensive assessment of how Lantern customers were treated; what they liked and disliked about the service they received and what they would like to see happen in future.
Denise chose IIC because they don’t just look at the customer’s perspective but also analyse the way Senior Managers and employees embrace the importance of customer experience. Identifying the gaps between what Senior Managers wanted to happen; what staff thought they were doing and what customers believed they were actually getting. Taking the view that there was no point in making promises that her team didn’t believe in or had no chance of making happen.
Lantern’s first assessment was something of a curate’s egg. Some customers were delighted about how they were being treated but others were hugely disappointed. This lack of consistency was also reflected in the internal results, where some staff understood the need to rethink their approach to customers, whilst others were stuck in a rut and relying on outdated systems and processes.
Denise’s response was to establish a baseline for service to which everyone had to adhere, making it clear that this was the bare minimum and that exceeding those expectations was very much the order of the day. The main focus was to make sure all staff did what they said they were going to, managing expectations in advance to ensure that customers had realistic goals. At the same time, managers were encouraged to empower their teams to take appropriate action at the right time, in the knowledge that they would never be criticised for ‘doing the right thing for the customer’.
A year later Investor in Customers reported a marked improvement in scores across all stakeholders – which closely matched improvements in the company’s profitability. A significant step in the right direction but not far enough to satisfy Denise. Consistency was much better with fewer customers reporting poor service and staff demonstrating by their actions how they treated customers in the way they would want to be looked after themselves.
However, Denise recognised that not only was there work still to be done, but that the customer experience bar was rising all the time. Standing still was effectively going backwards, so Denise introduced the ‘Lantern Promise’ to make it clear what customers could rely on and what was expected of staff.
Key to the Promise was making sure the company had the right people, doing the right things at the right time. Focusing on first contact resolution and treating customers as individuals – tailoring plans and service to meet their specific needs and to quickly recognise when a customer demonstrated signs of vulnerability and needed additional support and an empathetic ear. Refurbishing the offices and overhauling staff training also made sure that Lantern became a company that all staff were proud to be part of.
Which brings us to 2020 where Lantern’s third IIC assessment resulted in a prestigious Gold Accreditation. This placed Lantern in the top 10% of companies assessed by Investor in Customers.
The source of Lantern’s success was the business culture – putting customers at the heart of everything they do; never being judgmental and delivering a service that was the same whoever you spoke to.
Feedback such as that below was a long way off when Denise set out on her journey to transform Lantern. By focusing on their customers and enabling staff to do the right thing, the correlation between enhanced customer satisfaction and employee motivation can clearly be seen in IIC’s latest results. All of which leads to improved profitability and security for customers and employees alike:
“I’ve always been treated kindly and with respect, never been made to feel bad about my debt and any questions I’ve had have been answered making me feel confident that I know what’s going on with my account.” and “I was given very good advice and service for my situation and they found the best route and payment plan for me to choose and was very helpful and treated me with respect.”;
As Denise herself says: “Our success didn’t happen overnight - it comes off the back of years of hard work by everyone here at Lantern, pushing ourselves to set the highest possible standards when it comes to caring for our customers. I’ve always believed that, even in the world of debt recovery, it’s possible to build a successful business by being empathetic, honest and relatable. I’m phenomenally proud of what we’re building at Lantern. It’s something special that is starting to get the recognition I know our approach and people deserve”.
Danny Pickering Managing Director of Smile Customer Experience Ltd who facilitated the IIC assessment of Lantern added: “The number of customers who were prepared to waive their anonymity in order to give Lantern glowing feedback and scores about their experience in dealing with them is truly outstanding.”