22nd Jan 2021
Hitachi Capital UK’s head of customer experience, Catherine Lindsay, explains how the firm has adapted during the coronavirus pandemic, and why even within the functional environment of finance and loans, CX remains more important than ever.
Hitachi Capital Consumer Finance is one of the leading retail point-of-sale finance providers in the UK, supporting over 3,200 retail partners. It is also one of the top 10 providers of personal loans in the UK, mainly via its online channel.
In this interview, Hitachi’s head of customer experience, Catherine Lindsay, explains how Hitachi has adapted during the coronavirus pandemic, and why even within the functional environment of finance and loans, CX remains more important than ever.
Christopher Brooks: Thank you for joining us for this interview, Catherine. Perhaps we could start by discussing what the role of head of customer experience entails at Hitachi Capital UK?
Catherine Lindsay: My main responsibility is creating the context and detail behind and then embedding our group mission of delivering outstanding customer experiences within our consumer finance division. This includes using customer insight to drive continuous improvements and strategy, developing and delivering digital transformation and leading engaged contact centers, regulatory complaints, collections and operational teams to provide outstanding experiences and fair customer outcomes with every customer contact.
CB: What is the perceived value of focusing resources on customer experience at Hitachi Capital UK? Is the approach strategic, or is it more agile and responsive?
CL: We place extremely high value on delivering outstanding customer experiences. This flows from our CEO through all levels of our business, underpinned by our mission and values. I strongly believe a highly engaged workforce will deliver the best experiences, and that happy customers are returning customers. We have continued to invest in improving the customer experience both pre-covid and during the pandemic through recruitment, ongoing development of existing colleagues and in new technologies. We have a long-term plan providing strategic direction, with themes such as servicing customers any time, anywhere, via a channel of their choice (including self-service). Within the strategic plan we are a great sized business to be able to operate in an agile and responsive way within our different workstreams.
CB: Keeping the Voice of the Customer heard in the business is critical to staying ahead. For some sectors, such as utilities and banking, capturing feedback with customers can be a challenge. How do you achieve this?
CL: We gather customer surveys from several customer touchpoints across all products. We also analyse other types of customer data, such as customer contact reasons, complaints root cause analysis and web analytics so we can use this to understand the end to end customer journey and identify and improve any customer pain points. This year we’re also looking at how we can extend our use of analytics to further enhance the data we gather.
CB: As mentioned earlier, when customers borrow money, whilst they are pleased they have been afforded the credit, it’s really the item (e.g. DIY project) or experience (e.g. holiday) that they are most excited about. So is your role purely functional or can you inject memorable experiences into your relationship with the customer?
CL: I believe our role is to make the borrowing experience simple for our customers, so that provided they meet the lending criteria, they can get excited about the purpose that they wanted the credit for without an arduous process to get there! We analysed our customer insight to identify common themes in top scoring CSAT reviews and there were three that stood out. Customers wanted us to make it easy for them, they wanted us to be the experts (as finance can be complicated) and they wanted us to be there for them when they needed us.
I believe that our job is to use these customer wants to design end-to-end journeys that are memorable because of their ease, memorable because we proactively give the customer the information they need at the right time to make the right decisions, through to being memorable because when a customer really needs our help, maybe due to financial difficulty, we deliver consistent, empathetic and fair experiences for our customers with a real human touch.
We’ve defined what makes an outstanding customer experience using insight to enable us to live and breathe it across the business.
CB: If you are providing finance to a customer via a retail relationship they have, does that change your role? Is it your customer, or the retailers? Does the retailer become your customer as well?
CL: Our business development team builds strong partnerships with our retailers as the customer is both of ours. We aim to deliver great service to our retailer partners, by making the loan onboarding experience as easy as possible for their employees and the customers and we aim to deliver outstanding experiences to all customers, whether they take a loan via a retailer or with us directly. And if anything does go wrong with the product or service the customer purchases we work alongside our retail partners to put it right.
CB: Most of your business is conducted online. Customers have become much more digital savvy in 2020. Do you find customers use more channels to interact with you and how do you manage this?
CL: Through our digital transformation programmes, we’re evolving in terms of our channel offerings both in terms of onboarding and servicing. Over the last three years we’ve been unpicking our legacy systems and building strong foundations for us to be able to expand our channel offerings in a flexible way for future growth so that we can quickly adapt to changing customer behaviour. We expect to invest in an Omnichannel servicing platform this year which will bring great benefits to our customers and our frontline teams.
You are now in your third year, what would you say have been your biggest successes in progressing customer-centricity at Hitachi Capital Consumer Finance?
CL: For me, outstanding customer experience starts with our people. Over the last three years I’ve worked closely with our amazing L&D manager Samantha Campbell to invest in our people with new initiatives. We’ve defined what makes an outstanding customer experience using insight to enable us to live and breathe it across the business. This culminated in the launch of our Brand Ambassador programme. This brought outstanding customer experience to life for our frontline teams and refreshed and gave consistency to all our inbound and outbound communication channels. We can see the difference this has made to our advisor satisfaction scores, and in the verbatim many customers now refer to how we made them feel rather than just what we did.
We’ve invested in developing our people into leaders of the future by creating an Aspiring Leaders programme. This was trialed with 13 colleagues from my team and has been endorsed by the Institute of Leadership and Management. We decided to go down the route of ILM Recognition as it’s a benchmark of high quality, bespoke in-house leadership and management training. We wanted to provide a programme designed and delivered by our people, for our people so we could keep our fingers on the pulse of what is important for our customers and our business in developing our future leaders. Our first cohort flew through the external independent assessment in December 2020 and are progressing with their careers. 11 out of the 13 participants have moved into a leadership position or have stepped up to a secondment/temporary position. This year our Aspiring Leaders programme has been expanded across the business with 52 colleagues taking part and we’re launching Exceptional Leaders for current leaders in January 2021.
You must have a passion for the customer and inspire others to walk in the customer’s shoes and be truly empathetic to customers and colleagues as individuals.
A personal proud moment this year was the results we achieved during the COVID pandemic. As well as continuing to achieve strong internal CSAT and NPS scores despite record contact volumes, we received well above average results in the latest Institute of Customer Service independent business benchmarking survey of our customers, with all surveys sent during the pandemic. Our annual Employee Engagement scores were published in November. We achieved an 83% favorability score, an increase of 18.5% on 2019, with key improvements for empowerment, development and communication. To receive these results during a global pandemic is such a testament to my team and the wider business and all their hard work and dedication.
Our digital servicing transformation has consisted of laying the foundations to build from, and I expect that we will be ready to deliver some exciting customer and employee changes in this area this year.
CB: You are someone who shares updates and insights regularly in the CX Community. As a thought leader, what would you say are the essential traits of a modern CX Leader?
CL: I think that you must have a passion for the customer and inspire others to walk in the customer’s shoes and be truly empathetic to customers and colleagues as individuals.
I see my role to encourage and enable my team to create an open and positive environment where everyone feels valued and respected with their contribution recognised. This helps to create an environment where colleagues can be curious, have a voice and try new things without a fear of failure.
Above all I believe that people follow people, so be prepared to be your real self and allow others to be theirs. Celebrate when things go well, be happy to admit when things have gone wrong and understand what you can learn from it. Have drive, resilience and passion and the ability to build strong networks with others to get things done to benefit customers and colleagues.
CB: In the spirit of improvement, what are the biggest lessons you have learnt about bringing others with you on your journey?
CL: Approach change with enthusiasm and honesty, listen and involve others in the journey, whether that be customers or colleagues.
CB: Which other brands do you admire for the customer experience they provide. What is it about them that stands out?
CL: I bank with First Direct and their app is easy to use and I use it most days. If you ever need to speak to them then they answer the phone quickly and build fantastic rapport with customers.
CB: Finally, what advice would you give to someone just starting out on their customer experience career path?CL: This is a fantastic career choice for anyone with a passion for customers due to the variety. Grab new opportunities to learn and grow with both hands and above all, enjoy it!