For episode 7 we head up to Hong Kong and chat with Raymond Law, Customer Care Management Director at AXA. Raymond shines a light on what the Covid19 situation has meant for him and his organisation and how they were able to quickly transition to a Work from Home environment in the early stages of the outbreak.
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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 leaders in the space and what makes them tick.
My name is Martyn Riddle and as well as being your host for the series, I’m also Verint’s Vice President of Marketing for the region. For today’s podcast, we’re heading up to Hong Kong. It was one of the first places in the world to be affected by the COVID-19 crisis and set an early example of preventing the spread of the disease through strict lockdown restrictions. As the customer care leader for AXA in that region, our guest had to work within these restrictions to continue with the delivery of services and now that the situation is easing, is able to look back and reflect on his experience. Raymond Law, Customer Care Management Director at AXA, welcome.
Raymond Law: Hi.
Martyn: Raymond, can we start today by getting an introduction to the range of customer services that you provide at AXA?
Raymond: Thanks for your invitation, Martyn. It’s my honor to share some with my experience on how AXA can react during the COVID-19 situation. To start with, in AXA we are the leading global insurance company and we provide a wide range of insurance services including life and also wealth management insurance, individual health business, employee benefits, and we also provide a wide range of services including general insurance ranging from travel, motor, personal accidents and to home content protection.
In general, we are handling more than 19,000 calls per month, and more than 20,000 email and also live chat services.
Martyn: As I mentioned in the introduction, Hong Kong was one of the first places in the world to be impacted by the crisis. You weren’t really able to leverage the experience of others as you developed your plans. When did AXA become aware that the COVID-19 situation was going to have an impact on its customer services?
Raymond: Well, I remember we are becoming aware just before our Chinese new year holidays. Well, beforehand, we are just thinking of activating our BCP integration, but in case of really a COVID-19 outbreak, I guess at that moment we may not be able to react quick enough as the staff may require to do some quarantine, and then you’re affecting our all floor resources level to serve our customers.
Martyn: What was AXA’s response to the emergence of the COVID situation? It’s one thing having your BCP plans, but then actually realizing you needed to enact those plans and put things into action. How did you actually respond?
Raymond: At that moment, I remember AXA is really quite informed. Well, we actually conduct a few urgent meetings during our Chinese new year holidays. I remember on the second day of our Chinese new year holidays, we engage our IT team colleagues, our operation teams and even our senior management to discuss whether we can do some time for work from home. I said, we’ve been quite luckily at that moment, got a really strong team with good collaboration. With our senior management support, we tried out something we never tried before.
Within two days, our IT team has get more than 250 staff to set up all the VPN. We also tried to getting our vendor during the holiday time to stock up some of our unlimited data and also unlimited airtime sim card within one day. Also our operations team has conducted a feasibility testing, and then with the respective UAT within a week times so that right after we start our services after one week of the Chinese new year holiday, we can mobilize around 200 our customer service staff to do the work from home as a business continuity to respond to the COVID-19 situation.
Martyn: 200 staff? Is that just within Hong Kong or across the region?
Raymond: Basically, they are all in Hong Kong.
Martyn: How did you see the level of calls? You’re obviously an insurance provider, did you find the level of calls was increasing during the situation?
Raymond: Well, at that moment, depends on which business line. Some of those, like employee benefit there will be because the majority of the company is still not really operate yet, but some of the– This is not life insurance like general insurance. For example, travel, because if you recall at that moment February time, the majority of the- there will be some travel ban. Also majority of customers they are actually trying to change the travel plan and also even some of the cancellations. There’s a big impact of our call volume to our general insurance hotline at that moment.
Martyn: With everyone, all your 200 or so staff, all of a sudden working remotely, how did you go about as a leader making sure that some of the softer interactions still continued? When everyone’s working in an office or working in a contact centre, there’s a certain degree of social interaction, people having chats, people moving to have coffee breaks or tea breaks, how did you make sure that some of that interaction still continued when everyone was working from home?
Raymond: Okay. Actually, that was a bit challenging to us, but we basically have all our staff logged in to our- I mean call management system while all our managers and also supervisors with all their activities online. Well, beforehand, we basically pre-schedule all our stuff, we’ve defined lunch breaks and also afternoon breaks. Well, I mean all our staff had to adhere really tightly. I mean stick with their schedules in order to make a success. In case of any escalation, I think this is something quite challenging because sometimes the staff previously, whenever they are in the office, they may get used to getting their managers’ help face to face.
In reality, during that situation, they may getting the Skype as a kind of escalation and then our managers may get basic help, make any help via the Skype as well. During that moment, we actually learned quite a lot on how to manage our staff in a offsite mode. Actually, this is a great good opportunity for us to move our call centre to next level.
Martyn: How about some of the fun interactions? People like to have fun, how did you manage some of that activity during the remote working?
Raymond: Well, I think it’s hard, but we’re still getting our stuff, getting standard briefings, that kind of stuff we can use via our Skype for Business, that kind of tools. I think if you’re going into the really socializing things, to be honest, we are quite lacking of in reality because it’s hard, because we can’t do any face to face or so, but I think one thing I have giving our managers a kind of tips is, we still have to do a one-to-one during the COVID-19 situation because we basically have a one-to-one coaching exercise in a monthly basis. Still in this situation, I think this is something we can understand how well our staff work and work from home also.
This is something getting the major feedback from how the staff react to these changes of mode of work. Whenever we gather all those information, actually it’s good for us because you understand our staff in general, they are very happy on company has gotten this arrangement because in AXA we are one of the very few one in the call centre that can be 100% mobilized to work from home for the call centre in Hong Kong. Then I’m sure with all the feedback we gather, I think the staff actually is proud of us to having this arrangement for them.
Martyn: What impact do you think they had on the staff? How did the staff find that new way of working?
Raymond: Well, to be honest, at the very beginning we also need some time to get used to it. While we do have some staff, they can’t access the WIFI, they have no landline or cellphone at home, some of those they got some difficulties getting one month and then sometimes they got so many informations. They have to deal more an arrangement to view all the information that they can do it in the office, but with all those feedback we gather, we actually tried to stock up all those unlimited Sim Card as I mentioned before.
We also arranging some monitor delivery to their home, make them just work like in the office and then these things although there’s some hiccups there, but within two weeks times, basically the staff to get used to it. Then by now so far, for the past few months already, and then at this moment we still find it really useful and then they love to do the way like this.
Martyn: You mentioned a few months there. As I mentioned in my introduction, thankfully, Hong Kong appears to be coming out the other side of it, and hopefully, fingers crossed through the worst of it. Any lessons learned along the way, anything that you would do differently in hindsight?
Raymond: I think from hindsight, we are basically– I think as I mentioned, before the Chinese new year we have our BCP plan. From which we are basically planning to have speed site arrangement deal. Then we are quite focusing because we are foreseeing the COVID-19 is coming. Then we are arranging team A will be in the normal office. Team B will be in our BCP site. Then we spaced, to be honest, with a lot of energy to have this planning also before, but if we decided to do something new just like at this moment, then we actually can maintain a bit better in the future.
If you are talking about anything new that we learned, I think to us, the work from home arrangement maybe the new norm of mode of work in the future for the call centre. To be honest, there’s quite a lot of benefits. By now, you know the Hong Kong rental cost and the premises cost is really high. Then by now, if we think that the work from home is work, then I think the next what we can do is, we can make it work from home is a long maybe for future of mode of work for the call centre as well.
Martyn: That’s interesting. Even with the restrictions now easing somewhat in Hong Kong, you and your team are still maintaining or continuing a certain element of the work from home even though the office is available?
Raymond: Yes, we do. In fact, we are planning in the longer run, whether we can like working 20% of our staff work from home. Then, strictly speaking, you are saving 20% of our workspace for the full company as well. Then we can do a rotation and in return I think if the staff can do work from home this is retention to the team as well because in Hong Kong we got quite a higher turnover rate in the call centre environment as well. We are one of the few that can do the work from home and then in reality we can makeup layouts and compete to get more talent. We are actually offering more flexible types of work for the staff. I think in general, it can make us in a better position in recruiting new talent as well.
Martyn: Yes, that’s great. That makes a lot of sense. You also mentioned in the lessons learned that despite you guys having a great BCP process and a great plan, when it came to reality perhaps the plan didn’t necessarily cater for all eventualities. Do you think that’s probably going to make some changes to the way that people divide their BCP plans in the future? Do you think a whole new process is going to go into BCP planning?
Raymond: Yes, that’s it. I think with these times we deploy our staff work from home, to be honest, I think right after we proven our concept, not really a concept but now it’s practically work from home. I think what may be the next is, our BCP plan in the future we may change as well. I think in reality, we can have a backup work from home as a BCP. In fact, we can even cut one of our BCP site in case some critical things is coming. Then we can mobilize our staff to work from home as an alternative BCP instead.
Martyn: Raymond, you’ve got a number of years of leadership experience in this environment in the contact centre industry. I’m just wondering what the last few months have meant for you as a leader, what impact it’s had on you?
Raymond: To me, don’t be afraid of trying something new. It’s what I learned from this situation. Everyone is talking about transformation, jumping out of your comfort zone and then you have a new mode of work, that kind of stuff. I think to be honest, this time it’s really proven that if we try something new it’s the way to make your new growth and also your company growth.
Martyn: How about on a personal level, has the last few months had a big impact on you personally? Are there things in your life that have changed you didn’t think would happen?
Raymond: Wow. I think, to be honest, if everyone is facing this lockdown, I think it’s hard because you can’t do any socializing, social activities with your friends also. I think during this period of time, I think what I actually doing more is trying to contact more with my friends, my families. I think everyone actually is very nervous, worry about the situation, but if you keep engaging everyone, talk more with them, actually in reality in return, you’re actually giving them support and then they will also support you in this difficult situation. I think this is something for us all. For me personally, it’s a really big learning because I have to care of what are your friends or families during this period of time.
Martyn: Yes, that’s a great insight. I think it certainly has helped many of us realize what is important in life and those friendships and relationships are certainly top of the list for most people. We started getting a bit into what makes Raymond tick and a bit about your individuality. Let’s see if we can find out a little bit more. You said that you found it’s sometimes quite hard being locked down and locked away in your home. Was there a piece of music that kept you sane during these last couple of months?
Raymond: Well, to be honest, I always have two stress ball on my desk. Sometimes I’m sucking in the middle, I will try to play with these two stress balls all the time, try to bring some, then if I can, some way out of my work I would take a coffee, take myself refresh. If in case sometimes I really don’t want to shut down, don’t think about the business, then possibly I’ll read some books. Okay? My favorite books would be like the travel one because I like to travel very much. Especially by now, we can’t do any travel. I like to explore some spaces that I never traveled before. During this period of time, I require a lot of things and then right after the COVID-19 situation settle, I’m sure I have quite a lot of travel plans.
Martyn: No music, no great music, but a lot of travel books and I think some escapism has probably been very useful in the last little while. Raymond Law, Customer Care Management Director at AXA, it’s been great chatting with you today. Thank you for joining us on the Verint podcast. I wish you, your family, your colleagues at AXA, all the very best for a safe and happy future and thanks again.
Raymond: Thank you, Martyn. Thank you very much.
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.