In this launch episode, Martyn Riddle talks to Lisa Kauppinen, Head of ClientFirst Melbourne at IOOF, a large Australian-based financial services organisation.
During the chat, Lisa highlights the ‘Customer First’ methodology that underlines the way the business operates and talks about the challenges and successes they had as they transitioned the workforce to a Work from Home scenario. She also gives some insight to what’s keeping her entertained during the current situation.
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In conversation with . . . is a series of podcasts from Verint featuring chats and discussions with leading figures from the contact centre, CX and customer engagement industry across the Asia Pacific region.
Martyn Riddle: Hello, and welcome to In Conversation With, a series of podcasts from Verint. Featuring chats and discussions with leading figures from the contact centre, CX, and customer engagement industry in the Asia Pacific region. During this series, we want to find out what customer service organizations are doing during these challenging times, and try and discover what it is that drives the leaders in this space and makes them tick.
My name is Martyn Riddle, and as well as being your host for this series, I’m also Verint’s Vice President of Marketing for the region. Today, I’m delighted to be joined by Lisa Kauppinen, Head of ClientFirst at the Australian financial services organization IOOF. Lisa is a seasoned and experienced service delivery manager with more than 20 years of operation experience in the industry. Lisa has held implementation and contact centre management positions for a number of organizations and has managed as clients in the financial energy, automotive services and telecommunications industries. Lisa, welcome.
Lisa Kauppinen: Thank you.
Martyn: Head of ClientFirst, that’s quite an unusual job title, Lisa, and not one I’ve ever come across before. Could you tell me how the title came about, and what it means exactly?
Lisa: The role itself, the name has come from our team that we manage. The team that I look after is ClientFirst, and that is a name that evolved from probably five years ago when we started our transformation in how we operate.
Martyn: I understand that the customer service process at IOOF has undergone quite a series of transformations over the last few years. It could be considered quite different to a traditional model, can you take us through that?
Lisa: We don’t operate in a traditional contact centre administrative sort of environment. We are what I would call just an operation centre. We have all of our frontline staff across Melbourne, Sydney and Hobart, who can, in fact, answer a call, or respond to an email, or they will answer a piece of mail that has come in. They will pick up work from the back end of the queue or pick up a call if a call comes in. They’re able to do things end to end for our client.
They basically, case manage everything that comes in, we don’t handoff any work. In a traditional environment, a call might come in, and you’ll then get an individual, probably pass on work to the back office, for the back office to complete. We don’t do all of that handoff, the person who picks up the work owns the work and completes the work for a client. It’s very different to a traditional model,
Martyn: Yes. As you say so, a traditional model, you’d have the frontline, the customer service staff who would do that first level of processing, and then handoff any administrative work to the back end or to the back office with you, IOOF, your staff do the whole case management in one single process?
Lisa: That’s right. The problem with that– Well, I saw these very successful models around the world in the process of operating. The problem is when that work gets handed off, and handed off, and handed off, you increase the amount of time for the client to get what they actually contacted you for. The people who then end up completing that work, haven’t engaged with that client. They actually don’t understand what matters to that particular client. They’re just processing a piece of paper effectively.
Martyn: You feel this transformative process perhaps enables an added layer of empathy through the whole transaction?
Lisa: Absolutely, because we call the client to actually understand– Well, one of our missions is we deliver what matters. We actually measure if we delivered what mattered to the client. We capture that data by understanding at first what they want from us. If it’s a withdrawal, when do they want it? Then how do they want it? Then we capture that information at the end if we delivered to what they had specifically asked us for.
Martyn: If you’re merging those two, traditionally disparate departments or areas of staffing, I guess that means you’ve got now got back office or administration employees taking frontline calls?
Martyn: Traditionally, they’re quite different personality types and skill sets. How did you manage that change? How did you get back-office guys to actually feel comfortable picking up the phone?
Lisa: We have some interesting times going through that. Of course, at the end of the day, everyone comes into work to do a good job, and they want to do the right thing by the company by our clients. We were lucky that we had engaged with yourselves, with Verint, and started building your knowledge management tool into our organization, which I think has been an absolute lifesaver.
Having the right tools so that I can access the information that they need to answer, answer a poll. Their biggest fear, the biggest fear that on feedback we received from our frontline was individuals were so scared if they didn’t know the answer. What better way to arm them, than to provide the right tool, and the right information that they can access immediately.
Martyn: The dynamic knowledge management platform really gave them the confidence and access to the information to do that great job first time?
Lisa: Yes, that and certainly a lot of training, coaching, and taking time to build up that capability. This whole timeframe, probably five years in the making, from when we started having just six people in a room, review data for our clients we’re seeing. You’d take time to build that capability and give people confidence, and have the right tools in place for when they take on that work.
Martyn: Hw about looking at that staffing model from the other end of things from the traditional CSR, frontline representatives, having to get involved in perhaps a little bit more of the traditional back-office administrative work, how was that transition?
Lisa: By all accounts we’re super excited, because keep in mind, and context issues between you. Keep in mind, the people on the front line in a contact centre are taking calls likely from clients who are either missing something, they didn’t get what they had asked for, and whatnot. The contact centre staff don’t usually get to solve the problem. They hear the complaint, hear the issue I should say, and then that’s passed on somewhere else. The contract centre staff is super excited because they actually get to properly solve problems and actually work with those clients before any of these things become any problems so that was a really positive outcome too.
Martyn: Talking of several problems, obviously at the moment the inside customer service industry is finding itself in a very unusual place due to the COVID-19 crisis. What has that meant for your organization, the IOOF?
Lisa: I’m really proud of how the company has come together and mobilized during this period. When all this started, when the pandemic started, and then another team, the crisis management team were meeting, their first priority was the safety of all of our people, which is always great to hear. We did a test. We had half of the company on the 16th of March work from home. Then the view was to then they come back into work and we checked the other half the next day. We didn’t come back in the next day, we just did stay at home. Within a week we had 3,000 people literally working from home
Martyn: 3,000? Wow.
Lisa: Yes. In the organization.
Martyn: Yes. And I’m guessing you’re poor IT department must have been working day and night to facilitate that transformation?
Lisa: Then some. I’m sure they found more than 24 hours in a day. I still don’t know how they did it, to be honest. They had the biggest two weeks of their lives, but they were incredible. The priority was our client base teams across Melbourne, Sydney, Hobart to get us mobilized so we can deliver to our clients. That was it, we were the first, came off the rank for any queries that went to that chain because our clients always come number one
Martyn: Talk of increased workloads. How’s the demand been on your contact centre?
Lisa: We have fared very well, I would say. A lot to do with how the client-first model operates. We’re not a traditional contact centre where you’d have a small team of people,
Number of people, off a limited number of people who in fact can’t answer the phone. We have almost 200 people across the three sites who can take a call.
When you see those call spikes whether it’s due to the government when they released the announcement in March of the early release of super, or when in fact the payments actually started, we were able to absorb that work actually really well. We absorbed the calls when they came. Then, because we’ve got all of these, almost 200 people who can do all that work, we then have all of this 200 people who can actually complete the work as well. We have mobilized incredibly well, thankfully to this model on how we operate.
Martyn: Personally, explain to some of the listeners who are not in Australia that during this crisis, the Australian government has allowed superannuation fund holders to access their funds early or some of their funds early. Of course, that’s obviously generated a number of queries and transactions from citizens who are in suffering financial hardship and want to try and get hold of their money to get them through. That must mean an even greater level of empathy being expressed by your agents to these people who are in distress.
Lisa: Absolutely. They’ve been lots of conversations with our people, in fact, on how they’re dealing with hearing all of these stories of people who are in significant stress, financial stress due to this crisis. We’ll do things like– One of the frontline guys contacts me, will say, “Someone’s been in a particularly troublesome period,” and we’ll send a $200 prepaid Visa card just to try and help get over the line. My boss put a challenge out to everyone to pay it forward. $50-type vouchers, pay it forward if you’re just speaking on the phone, if someone’s just doing it, particularly talk.
An extra $50 might not- it’s not going to solve the world’s problems, but might help them understand that people are hearing and people care. I think all of that has really helped our people deal with what are really hard conversations. It’s not every day you hear call after call of those conversations. The empathy they’ve shown, Martyn, is just incredible. I couldn’t be more proud, as corny as that may sound.
Martyn: [chuckles] No, it sounds great. I’m guessing for these guys and ladies who are suffering, their own personal hardships, working from home, across some of the impacts they can have on our lives. We’re sharing our workspaces now with family, kids, dogs, and everything else in between. They’ve got their own situation to contend with, then listening to customers, and trying to do their job, and trying to communicate with everyone, that must have its own special considerations as well. How are you as their leader trying to drive that engagement and that typical water-cooler, transactional environment that you usually get in an office environment?
Lisa: Certainly, a lot more meetings. We’re trying to do as many with the video conference functionality as we can like Zoom or MS Teams or whatever is most popular, particularly, just to make sure you can see people. When you’re engaging with them, it’s really, really important. We’re finding that quite useful. Just making sure we’re staying in touch. It’s keeping the conversation going. We’re sending daily updates of how we’re all progressing. My boss sends a daily update. Our HR business partners in contact regularly goes to various team meetings and so on, just to make sure we’re staying in as much contact as possible.
I will say that that there were a handful of people and myself included that thought working from home would be a nightmare. I think there’ll be a lot more people out of our company after this. My team in particular who will be keen to work from home, moving forward. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s 40% or 50% of the group because they’ve all taken to it really well. I’ll bet the challenges with existing kids at home don’t– I think once kids are back at school, and there’s some form of normality, we expect there should be a significant amount of people who will remain quite happily at home.
Martyn: It’s a big personal enlightenment for you. You’re a work-must-be-done-in-the-office-type worker, and then you realized and you believe that that’s not always necessarily the case.
Lisa: I was quite happy for our frontline people to work from home. We had started, albeit quite slowly, programmed it to encourage that within our people. I had a view that if you’re a people leader, it’s best if you’re in the office because you need to be with your people. When all this started and the week of the 16th of March, and we started moving people home, I got really excited because I thought this is going to blow my perception completely out of the water. Pleasantly so, I like to be wrong every now and then, Martyn.
Martyn: You don’t learn if you’re not wrong now and again.
Lisa: Exactly right.
Martyn: Have there been any other leadership learnings that you’ve come across, any other revelations or new ways of doing business that might be of interest?
Lisa: You know what? For me, I’ve always been pleased and excited when you see people rise to the challenge, but I’ve never lived through this before. No one’s ever seen this before. I’m so excited and so proud at, not just how all of my team have lifted, they’ve lifted how they operate. They’re working to our purpose, understand me, look after me, secure my future. The entire organization really has come together in a way I’ve never seen before. We certainly haven’t been through pandemic before, but it’s a wonderful thing. For me, people don’t come to work to fail. I think people want to do a good job. Having that knowledge and then seeing people lift above that again is pretty incredible.
Martyn: We talked before about the social interaction or the level of communication between your employees in their usual office environment. Obviously, there’s usually a bit of fun involved as well. You can’t have all work and no play. Perhaps in this remote situation, that’s what we’re faced with, or is there a bit of play coming into this still?
Lisa: There’s certainly play coming in. We’ve got teams who are doing quiz nights on Skype. We had a dance party the other week. One of the team organized a Zoom dance party. People got to nominate songs. I think for us, where we used to have our little team meetings would probably happen if once every couple of days, making sure that each team has a meeting at least every single day even if it’s just for 15 minutes, and even if they’re not talking about work, just have a chat. People are dressing up and introducing each other to their pets and their children.
I actually love it when you see kids running in the background or where a cat walks across the computer. What we’re finding is you’re actually getting to know people better. You’re getting to really understand and engage in a completely different level. That would be different than if you just walk past them in your hallway at the office consistently every so often.
Martyn: That’s a beautiful segue to finding out a little bit more about you at as a person, Lisa as a person then. Let’s imagine for a moment if we can that this lockdown situation lasts forever. Is there one piece of music that you are going to listen to, to keep you sane or to stop you going totally mad?
Lisa: In order to remain sane, I would need my entire running track because running would be a requirement for the sanity to somewhat remain.
Martyn: When you say running do you mean doof doof house type music, upbeat?
Lisa: Yes that’s correct but from 20 years ago.
Martyn: I’m with you sister, I’m with you.
How about a book or a film? Is there one title that always keeps you entertained and you can always turn to?
Lisa: One film, that was probably the last Avengers film. I could watch over and over again. I do enjoy those type of hero movies, always good fun and light entertainment and Robert Downey Jr. always got something amusing. That would keep me entertained for a period of time, I’m sure. If I could have all of Netflix I’d be much happier.
Martyn: I’m going to horrify our audience here, and probably horrify you by admitting here on the podcast that I’ve never watched a superhero Avengers film and even worse, I don’t subscribe to Netflix. Oh my goodness.
Lisa: #outrage Martyn, #outrage.
Martyn: #looser, I think some people might say.
[Martyn] Finally, how about a material object or gadget you just can’t live without? What’s that one thing you’re going to keep by your side all the time, apart from a running machine?
Lisa: If I had Netflix, I’d need my remote control.
Martyn: Pragmatic to the last. Pragmatic to the last.
Martyn: Hey, that’s great.
Lisa Kauppine, head of client personnel at IOOF. Its been an absolute pleasure chatting with you today. Thank you so much for your time. I wish you, your family and your colleagues all the very best and that they stay safe.
Lisa: Thank you Martyn, you too.