A day that changed the customer service landscape
Wednesday 11 March 2020 will forever be remembered as a day of transition in the history of Denmark: In the evening, the Danish Prime Minister introduced a large number of Covid-19-related restrictions and recommendations that would change Denmark overnight. One of the Prime Minister’s recommendations was that as many private sector employees as possible should work from home.
That evening, while some ill-informed Danes began to panic buy pasta and toilet paper, everyone at Sydbank became busy:
“Yes, then we became really busy, and we’ve been extremely busy ever since!” says Martin Nørvald, an IT Consultant in the bank’s IT Support team. “We knew it could happen, so we were not unprepared, but especially in the first days after the Prime Minister’s announcement we could really feel the pressure. In part because we got significantly more inquiries from customers, in part because so many of the bank’s employees suddenly needed to be able to work from home.”
“For a number of days, that unfortunately meant that we had significantly longer processing times for internal inquiries from our Sydbank colleagues. Under normal circumstances, we take pride in being able to resolve internal support inquiries in approx. 5 minutes, but during the transition to remote working we used up to an average of 30 minutes on resolving inquiries from our colleagues. That was because many of them suddenly needed laptops as well as secure remote access to the bank’s systems.”
A third of Sydbank’s employees currently work from home, and among the bank’s business advisers the number is even higher. The large number of teleworkers means that the remaining colleagues have more free space in the bank’s offices and branches, and they use that to keep a greater physical distance among each other.
Incredibly understanding customers
“The Covid-19 crisis has really introduced a whole new agenda,” confirms Joan Mai, who in her role as Department Director in Sydbank Direct Service is responsible for the service experience among the majority of the bank’s customers. “Since 11 March we’ve had approx. 15% more inquiries o, our telephone and chat advice service Sydbank Direct, but especially in the first few days of the crisis we received far, far more. For once, we had difficulty keeping up with the load, because at the same time we also needed to maintain a larger-than-usual physical distance between our Sydbank Direct employees.”
“A large number of customers called us simultaneously to learn if and how their pensions or investments would be affected by the crisis. One of the first things we decided to do was to set up a special welcome announcement on our Zylinc contact center solution in order to inform our customers about longer waiting times.”
“Right from the outset, the bank has also been very active on social media and on our website, where we’ve managed to successfully communicate that we’re ready to help, advise, and provide answers to questions from 8.00 in the morning till 20.00 in the evening, every day of the week.”
“Despite the longer waiting times, the customers have been incredibly understanding,” Joan Main continues. “Even with the unusually high inquiry volume, I received very few complaints during those first weeks of the crisis, and we still get very good evaluations in the short customer satisfaction surveys that we offer after each call.”
“Lately, we’ve begun to get a lot of inquiries about the government’s business support grants. When at the same time customers have lots of questions about their investments, their cash position, how the property market will react, the risk of unemployment, etc., we can still easily reach peak loads on the bank’s phone and chat queues.”
Sydbank Direct gets most inquiries between 10.00 and 16.00, but the bank urges customers to call the bank during off-peak hours – that is 8.00-10.00 and 17.00-20.00 – if possible, and there’s also a purely physical reason for that:
“As a manager, there can be a delicate balance in making sure that you have enough employees to answer inquiries during peaks, while also making sure that those employees are able to maintain the required physical distance.”
“Even though many colleagues work from home, a lot of customer service employees still work at the bank’s offices. In those cases, we of course follow the official recommendations about keeping distance between each other. That means that we’re seated differently than before the crisis. Fortunately, that’s been easy to implement, because with the free seating feature in our Zylinc solutions our employees are not tied to particular physical phones. That has made it very easy for us to help protect each other by moving our physical workstations around,” Joan Mai explains.
Sydbank has offices and branches across the country, and when many employees now work from home it has become vital to maintain an overview of employees’ status and availability: “We’ve always been very happy with the colleague overview in our Zylinc solutions,” says Joan Mai, “but during the crisis, Zylinc’s colleague overview feature has become even more important for us.”
According to Henrik Sønderby Bøystrup, who’s an IT Business Architect in Sydbank’s Infrastructure team and, roughly speaking, responsible for all the bank’s audio and video, an update that adds extra value to the colleague overview came just in time for the Covid-19 crisis: “We recently implemented line state for mobile phones. That means that we can now instantly view whether colleagues are available on their mobiles too, which is of great importance when so many employees work from home during the crisis.”
“You quickly learn to manage working from home”
Two of the employees who currently work from home, and consequently get calls forwarded to their mobiles, are Karina Jepsen Toftebjerg and Bennet Grum Breinberg from the Property and Pension team under Sydbank Direct. They praise the customers for their patience and adaptability, not least because meetings with customers now only take place online:
During the Covid-19 crisis, Sydbank Direct Property and Pension’s popular hybrid meetings, where the customer visits their branch, sits down with their bank adviser, and goes through a digital advice session together with the adviser, have temporarily been replaced by dedicated web meetings, where customers must sit at home, in front of their own computers, and get advice remotely.
“Our customers of course still want to be in charge of their own lives, including their home and their pension, but they’ve been brilliant at taking in our new purely digital meeting formats during the crisis,” says Karina Jepsen Toftebjerg, who’s Team Manager for Property and Pension, and she continues:
“Before we end any advice session with a customer, we always ask them about their experience. It’s become evident that our customers appreciate the purely digital meeting format. They tell us that the web meetings are easy and flexible, and they actually give us great credit for them!”
Bennet Grum Breinberg is a pension adviser, and lately he’s had numerous web meetings with customers from his home. He, too, is excited about the web meeting format, and after several weeks as a teleworker he, just like the customers, has adapted to the new situation:
“You learn to manage: On a practical level, I need to maintain confidentiality, so when I close the door to my home office, everyone in the house knows that I’m busy with a customer. I’m also a guy who takes a lot of notes on paper during a session, but right after each session I enter relevant notes into the bank’s systems, and then the paper notes go straight into the shredder.”
“With web meetings, we can often offer greater flexibility during times when many of our customers also work from home,” Bennet Grum Breinberg continues. “Judging by the great reception that our digital initiatives have got from our customers, I actually believe that the need for physical meetings will gradually ebb away in the future. Even when I speak with old Mr. and Mrs. Jones, they’re surprisingly enthusiastic about the digital formats.”
“The bank’s IT department has been extremely helpful and provided remote support whenever I’ve needed it. Actually, I’ve only had a few problems: I’ve had a few bandwidth issues, and once I ended up on several different servers, so that the programs that we use when we advise customers couldn’t work properly together, but on each occasion the IT department has fixed the problems for me very quickly.”
“Even though I don’t have my colleagues around me physically, I haven’t felt socially isolated. In our team, we often hold digital standup whiteboard meetings, where we update each other on the status of our tasks, and I generally have a great deal of interaction with my colleagues during a workday, but of course that interaction is currently digital.”
Strong culture and management
In a time characterized by many changes, some things remain as they always have been: “We’ve always built our customer contact around close relations, and we’re actually able to maintain that value set digitally,” says Sydbank Direct Property and Pension Team Manager Karina Jepsen Toftebjerg.
“Both new and seasoned colleagues are continuously trained in building up and maintaining close relations in their customer contact. It’s the be-all and end-all of our values as a bank that customers feel closely connected to us, and that we feel closely connected to them. It’s all about relations and trust: Even if we hold a web meeting, where we and the customer can’t see each other face-to-face, we always make sure that the customer is able to view a picture of their adviser, while we go through, for example, some documents or a presentation.”
“As a team manager, I can of course miss the spontaneous and direct interaction with my team members during the crisis, for example if a colleague has had a difficult conversation, or if you want to high-five a colleague for having resolved an inquiry extraordinarily well. That said, I really want to give credit to our employees for being great at maintaining our many strengths – with a certain degree of adaption, of course. For example, we used to have our standup whiteboard meetings every other day; now we have them every day.”
The fact that the bank is able to maintain its culture and values during the crisis is of course also top management’s responsibility:
“As top management, it’s important to send out clear signals. That provides peace of mind for employees as well as customers,” says Sydbank Direct Department Director Joan Mai.
“For example, top management has made it clear that under no circumstances will we relax our take on GDPR, protection of customer data, or confidentiality, despite the fact that a large group of employees work from home during the crisis. Bennet’s examples from earlier – the ones about his shredder and the significance of closing the door to his home office – prove that our employees still fully live up to the requirements.”
When Joan Mai says that, Henrik Sønderby Bøystrup suddenly begins to smile into his webcam, and then he provides a great example of the great sense of humor that the bank’s employees use to make sure that they’ll be able to get out of the crisis just as strong – if not stronger – as when they were suddenly affected by it:
“I of course also shred any confidential notes, but on top of that my handwriting – which everyone else claims is illegible – provides a very efficient encryption method …!”
Images on this page courtesy of Sydbank