How 'Service with Respect' has made a difference at Covea

How 'Service with Respect' has made a difference at Covea

Authored by Covéa Insurance Director of Customer Experience Vicki Heslop

Data from an Institute of Customer Service (ICS) poll in March 2023 showed that nearly half of frontline service employees had experienced hostility from customers in the previous six months, with nearly half considering leaving their role as a result.   

The ICS says the cost-of-living crisis is behind this, with 66% of customer-facing employees seeing changes in customer behaviour triggered by cost-of-living frustrations.

‘Service With Respect’ is a campaign launched by ICS during the pandemic to support and protect frontline workers from unacceptable abuse. As a supporter of the campaign, Vicki Heslop explains how it has made a difference at Covéa Insurance.

Is hostile and abusive behaviour towards your employees by customers a big problem? 

Like other service sectors, we saw a marked change in customer behaviour during Covid when we were going into lockdown. That was when ICS launched ‘Service with Respect’ and we signed up to it. We saw the crucial job our team were doing, keeping our business going and enabling us to be there for our customers and pay out claims, and we wanted to support them. Although the problems of Covid have now largely gone, new challenges have emerged, like the shortage of car parts which makes it harder to get repairs done, and the cost-of-living crisis. These issues increase customer frustration and can affect behaviour towards our employees, although thankfully not often.

How does the ‘Service with Respect’ Campaign make a difference? 

The campaign is about how employers reassure and back-up their people. It makes clear that abusive behaviour from customers is unacceptable and says we support our people as much we do our customers who buy a service from us. 

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For our people, it’s about us saying that abusive behaviour towards them is not ok. It’s not right or acceptable, they aren’t expected to tolerate it, and we will help and support them to deal with any occurrence.

Why is supporting your frontline customer-facing employees important to Covéa? 

From Covéa’s perspective it’s our frontline people who are providing the service that our customers have paid for, who are delivering on our promise, day in day out. They are at the sharp end and as we saw during the pandemic, they kept our business going by paying claims and answering the phones.

How are hostile or abusive incidents of customer behaviour dealt with? 

We’ve created a whole training suite offering solutions to deal with different scenarios, perhaps where something’s gone wrong, or we have a vulnerable customer. We’ve done a lot of work to help our people understand different situations and how they can be diffused and prevent them from being escalated. Thankfully we don’t have many serious incidents, but we do have escalation procedures and can support our people through this if it happens. For the person who’s had to deal with that difficult call we have lots of support in place, first to help them work through the situation, and then to help them recover afterwards.

How does ‘Service with Respect’ affect the service you give customers? 

If you help and support your people by giving them training and technical support and putting in place the mechanisms to really focus on their wellbeing, that goes straight back to the service you provide your customers. So, the more we help our people with their wellbeing and engagement, the more they give that back to customers. 

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‘Service with respect’ gives extra reassurance to our people that if things get difficult, they will be supported so they don’t feel on their own. This means they can be more comfortable and confident in their role, which, enables them to give a better service to customers.

Have you seen improvements because of adopting Service with Respect, if so, what are they? 

‘Service With Respect’ helps us to back up the good service we aim to give all our customers by putting a more specific focus on the issue. It’s enabled us to make sure we have all the right signposting, solutions, and different tools in place to support our people.  As part of the process, we’ve learned a lot about what our customers are going through, which we’ve used to adapt what we’re doing and make it even better. We’ve done a lot, but I think you’ve always got to keep doing more and keep raising that bar.

What else do you do to improve the working experience and prevent burnout for customer-facing employees? 

The working experience for our employees is absolutely at the forefront of our minds and has been part of our culture for some time. We have a suite of solutions to support our people’s wellbeing which is especially important when it’s busy, like now.

We make sure there’s a fun team and family element to the role, because although it can be rewarding it can also be challenging when you have difficult conversations. That’s when people need the support of colleagues and team leaders. We give people time and space to recharge, time away or take a break – this downtime can be great from a learning perspective too. We also include activities that focus on fun and engagement that underpin wellbeing and people really seem to enjoy that element. It might be social, involving different team events or connecting with other teams.

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What does the future look like for those working in customer-facing roles? 

There’s now increased recognition for being a person at the end of a phone providing a service, which is helping to change perceptions of customer service as a profession. Businesses recognise they need more people who can deliver that service, because what they do is invaluable. This was proven so powerfully in the pandemic that I can’t ever see a time when customer facing roles are less important.  There’s been lots of digital solutions considered but every industry is now recognising the importance of people being in those customer facing roles.  Yes, some of those roles will become more technical, but the value of being a person at the end of the phone is irreplaceable and always will be.

Vicki Heslop is Director of Customer Experience at Covéa Insurance, having previously held roles of Head of Customer Experience and Head of Customer Claims. She is responsible for driving the strategy, planning and execution of Covéa Insurance’s overall customer experience programme across all functions of the business. Covéa Insurance is currently the only ICS Member to hold three simultaneous ServiceMark with Distinction accreditations.