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Designing for high performance - Case study

A region of one of Britain’s largest house building companies was languishing at the bottom of their company’s internal customer service league table. Quality Control inspections on each new property take place at the build completion date some 2-4 weeks before the client moves in.

Whilst some site managers have the house ready at the build completion date with only 2 or 3 snags emerging during the inspection, some are simply not ready resulting in poor feedback from clients after they have moved in. The managing director’s view was this was an attitudinal issue – many site managers were working to the customer moving in date instead of the build completion date.

Despite repeated communications, the managing director was frustrated that there was little shift in both attitude, performance and league table position. He concluded that as well as the site managers, engineers, the production department and probably the business as a whole “simply do not have a customer focussed attitude and as a result the company is haemorrhaging money”.

OB Consulting was approached to help the company establish a customer-focused approach to its working and business practices. Over the next 9 months the region climbed to second place in the league table as a result of a number of initiatives supported by OB Consulting including:

  • A ‘back to the floor’ exercise for the directors so they could hear and see a range of typical customer issues from all viewpoints. This included a half day observing then acting as a customer service operator dealing directly with customer complaints and a further half day on site dealing with a range of sub-contractor issues. This was preceded by a directors’ team coaching session to explore personal effectiveness (do’s and don’ts) for a number of likely scenarios whilst in their ‘back to the floor’ roles.
  • Setting up a customer service cross-functional group which included agreeing a set of principles to guide the group’s activities: Customer service above all else
    - Forward-looking, solution-focused means no looking back and blaming for past actions
    - Address root causes means no papering over cracks
    - Team-working and partnership means no egos, no protecting personal or functional interests
    - Honesty means tell it as it is, no hiding the truth no matter how painful
    - Integrity and ownership means we follow through on what we agree
  • Facilitating the initial customer service cross-functional group meeting to identify issues causing poor customer service scores and to then identify ‘quick-win’ solutions to straightforward issues as well as identify complex issues requiring fundamental shifts in policy, processes, behaviour, contractual relationships with third parties etc.
  • Facilitating subsequent customer service cross-functional group meetings; establishing a customer-centric approach by using customer journey mapping techniques to establish the desired customer experience and motivation theory to identify what is reinforcing current behaviour and what is required to reinforce the desired behaviour of employees and sub-contractors. With a clear message from the managing director that there are no ‘sacred cows’, the group were challenged to identify radical changes where necessary to company policies, processes, HR practices, management and supervisory style, induction and training programmes, departmental team cultures that were running counter to the customer service ethos, existing methods of continuous improvement (a long-extinguished suggestion scheme), and the commercial requirements for developing true long-term partnership working rather than ‘fair weather’ contractor relationships.
  • Designing and facilitating a series of large group events to start the process of behavioural change in the business and establish customer service as their highest priority, including re-launching the company’s Customer Journey and using a number of typical scenarios to illustrate current/poor and future/desired practices and behaviours.

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