As part of our CX leaders interview series published by My Customer, we spoke to Lauren Harding, the Head of Customer Experience at Spring – a homebuying service in the UK.
Christopher Brooks. So Lauren, you are currently head of customer experience at Spring. Would you tell us a little about Spring first?
LH. I have been with Spring for almost two years, having moved from the financial services sector. With a 15 year history in both the B2C and B2B markets, Spring is a property buying company that offers at alternative option to selling your home via an estate agent on the open market.
Selling a home is noted as one of the most stressful experiences you might go through in your life, and Spring aims to offers a stress-free, guaranteed solution to those who are looking to sell their property quickly. We offer our homebuying, chain repair services and part-exchange solutions to the general public as well as new home developers, estate agents and retirement home providers. This year alone we have made over 6,000 offers, purchased a property within 48 hours, and 95% of our customers would recommend Spring as a method of selling property.
CB. You began your career in customer service and migrated to CX roles. We’d love to hear more about your career journey and how you’ve found CX has evolved in the roles you’ve been in?
LH. I’ve always enjoyed working with people in a customer service role, and one of my first roles working at an HSBC contact centre for 15 years is where I really developed my skills in understanding customers and their needs. Working as a call centre agent, gave me the opportunity to service customers with all different personality types while dealing with a whole range of queries, from updating personal information, to completing credit applications and resolving complaints.
After becoming a team coach, where I worked to develop my team in conversation skills, active listening, rapport build and regulatory compliance, I decided that I wanted to move into the branch network and work with customers face-to-face. I moved into a branch role, where customer service felt very different. It was more direct by not having the hold button to hand, and seeing the emotion on customers’ faces, when our procedures and process stopped us from helping them, became a light bulb moment for me. I knew that I had the skills and experience to deliver a great customer service directly, but I knew I would be able to make a greater impact by being the one to help create and design customer focus processes, which therefore enabled staff to give a more efficient and effective service.
I worked for HSBC in a head office transformation role for a number of years, developing new technology and procedures to enhance core journeys that customers go through. My transformation role then led me to move to Principality Building Society as a CX lead, working on day-to-day technology projects to enable customers to have another channel to interact with.
Over the years, like every industry, technology has become the forefront of enhancing customer experiences and has also helped CX professionals harness data and statistic to help make informed decisions based on facts. Technology and the way in which people use it now, has allowed us to reach and speak to people for research purposes at a touch of a button. Virtual focus groups, email questionnaire and sentiment tracking data, has allowed us to become closer to the customer than ever.
CB. How is customer experience valued and approached at Spring?
LH. Customer is at the heart of what we do at Spring. We have spent a lot of time understanding customer motivation and our customer types, to allow us to create a service and proposition that suits them. We understand that one of our biggest demographics of customers are those in retirement age, these customers may suffer with vulnerabilities or require a more handheld approach when they choose Spring. We ensure that all our staff members, not just customer-facing, undertake training delivered by the Samaritans and become accredited Dementia Friends. This is to allow staff to identify when a customer may need further care and attention when being dealt with.
Our strong focus on customer is demonstrated not only by our property advisors who are the first point of contact for our customers, but how our website is designed to be clear and simple to use, sharing real life customer stories and examples of how we have helped our customers. We do not use jargon or acronyms and our front-line customer team are not commission based, but rewarded on the level of service they provide.
We have trained the teams within Spring to understand human-centred design and personality-driven service. This allows the teams to have the skills to put themselves in the customer’s shoes, when they are creating new process or writing procedures.
CB. What is the perceived value of focusing resources on customer experience at Spring? Is the approach strategic, or is it more responsive to ‘here and now’ customer needs?
LH. We have a very holistic approach to the value of customer experience at Spring. Our strategic vision is to develop a team throughout the company, where customer is always at the forefront of their mind. Our strategic company objects have a direct focus on customer, which are then filtered down to the induvial teams, so the element of providing a standout experience is woven throughout the goals at Spring.
When we recruit, we are very particular with type of person we employ, to ensure they fit our values of customer centricity from the start. With a turbulent housing market of late, we always must be responsive and pre-empt the needs of our customers. We do this though market analysis and research, whilst tracking our customer sentiment, to make sure we are offering solutions that are always relevant to our customers and business partners.
CB. What are the initiatives you have been working on recently in service of the customer, and what has been your main learning?
LH. Over the past 12 months we have been developing new initiatives for our B2B partners, ensuring we can deliver an experience for them that enables them to refer their clients to us with ease and certainty. As our partners range from estate agents, new home developers to retirement home provides, we understand that their businesses, employees, and customers are all very different. We need to ensure that we create tailored onboarding journeys for each of them, designing bespoke training, marketing, reporting and ongoing relationship management, which is in synergy with their business style.
Our B2B clients refer their customers to Spring to buy their property, to facilitate an onward purchase with them. We used to rely on the training we delivered and marketing materials to help the partners make a successful referral to us. However, we noticed that there was still a lack of certainty as to what a Spring offer could mean for a customer and how our offers changed depending on the property or location.
We recently created a front-end property database tool, that allows our clients to determine an accurate Spring offer, at first point of contact. By using data obtained from national registers, and overlaying it with our own underwriting algorithms, we are now able to accurately provide an offer without the need for a full underwriting process. This allows the customer to be fully informed upfront of the service and if it would work for them. Allowing the partner to be more effective and efficient in their referral process, providing certainty for the customer.
CB. How do you think leaders should best engage with employees to a focus on customer-centricity in organisations? Any examples from Spring to share?
LH. Customer-centricity is something that needs to be embedded through the heart of the business in order to make an impact. I’ve witnessed many “customer-first” training presentations in my time. However, unless it runs deeper through the business, customer-centricity cannot be achieved. This starts at the first interaction with a new partner, right through to exchange and completion on a property. We have developed our training to be human centred and tailored to individual partner’s needs, where we share with them real life case studies to really bring to life how Spring can help customers like theirs.
This is one of the most stressful things a customer can do in their lifetime, so ensuring we continually evolve our process by listening to customer needs, helps us to deliver a service that is tailored around the customer.
Our front-end property advisors, who are the first touchpoint for customers, are not rewarded or paid commission on the amount of referrals they progress or sales they complete, but are rewarded on their customer service skills, call quality and customer feedback.
When discussing our leads or sales, we refer to the customer by name and always tailor our communication throughout the journey to suit their need. If a customer is a busy professional selling their home, we will communicate through text or email. If they are a retiree, moving for the first time in 30 years, we will call them and talk them through every step of the journey, sending them a letter in the post to confirm our conversation. We know that not all our customers are the same, so they should all have a service that is individual to them. This is how customer-centricity is built, really putting your customers’ needs at the heart of your operation and tailoring your business processes around them.
CB. The position of a CX lead is not always an easy one. What would you say is your biggest challenge in your role?
LH. One of the biggest challenges in the role is insufficient responses from customers on how they found their experience when dealing with Spring. We all know that CX is all about communication, listening to customers and responding to their feedback. We previously introduced post call surveys, and post experience questionnaires, but found we weren’t getting the volume of responses from our customers. This hindered us in making changes are we simply didn’t have a clear enough understanding of our customer needs.
We have introduced more call monitoring, to quality check the calls and to understand customer sentiment, which has help us improve our decision making, processes and ways of work. We now also focus on obtaining real life case studies from our customers, talking to them about their full journey selling their home with Spring.
These have now become a pivotal piece of the CX strategy, which now is intertwined with marketing and our business development team. We share these stories on our website and social media, to give prospective customers and partners social proof and show our product in action.
CB. Is a good customer experience more expected now? And how do you keep up with these evolving expectations at Spring?
LH. Everyone expects a good level of customer service at all times. From buying a coffee to selling their home. We all want these things to be delivered to us in efficient, professional and user-friendly way. However, we know that not every experience always requires the same depth of service. For example, when in a hurry and heading to grab your morning coffee, you don’t expect a welcome text to your phone when you walk through the door, or regular updates as to how your coffee is being prepared, finished with a follow up call to understand how your experience was. It’s just not needed for such a daily activity where the process is always understood.
This is different to the journey a person would go through when selling their home. We know that this is one of the most stressful things a customer can do in their lifetime, so ensuring we continually evolve our process by listening to customer needs, helps us to deliver a service that is tailored around the customer, and also lets us create new products that they would need.
CB. Which brands inspire you with their approach to CX? What is it about them that stands out?
LH. Having come from a financial background, Monzo will always be a brand that I look to for inspiration in customer experience. As one of the first digital banks on the market, they have continually evolved their product and proposition to meet the needs of their customers. They have incorporated gamification into their app, which only makes the task of banking engaging, but really helps their customers stay in control of their finances simply. I also love their social media marketing, they interact incredibly well with customers, competitors, and other companies, adding a fun and jovial twist to their posts and tweets.
CB. Finally, if you could give just one piece of advice to someone just starting out on their customer experience career path, what would it be?
I think the biggest piece of advice to anyone starting out in CX would just be to really listen and to understand their customers. Sometimes we can use our own experiences or beliefs when designing customer journeys or making improvements, but a lot of the time, these are outdated or not relevant for the demographic of customer we are dealing with. We must be empathic and understand what our customers’ needs and want are. But being able to listen and learn what customers are saying, without specifically saying it, is where the real magic can happen.
Empathy mapping is great tool that I like to use a lot when starting a project or in training sessions, as it can help broaden the mind and get into the deeper reason for the customers need. Understanding what they are thinking, feeling, saying and doing, are all very different things, but when they are all looked at collectively, you can find solutions that can deliver a stand-out customer experience.
This article was originally published in My Customer as part of our CX Leaders series. In the series, we speak with senior customer experience professionals to learn about how they have driven customer-centric change at their organisations and what we can learn from their successes.