Enhancing customer service
An Automobile Association (AA) case study

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Page 4: Managing change

Automobile Association Aa 2 Image 4Organisations will only be successful if they place the customer at the heart of their business. The AA exemplifies this customer orientation since it has built up a personal bond with individual customers through relationship marketing. The student can see how this has occurred by examining stages in the cycle of continuous improvement at the AA. This improvement can be divided into three main stages, described below.

Similar to many of the major organisations in this country, the AA experienced relatively little change in the 1970s and early 1980s. As an established market leader it had created a successful pattern. Its roadside services provided an effective customer face for the organisation. Behind the scenes, the AA had a command and control structure based on clearly defined procedures and set patterns of organisation.

First stage change - an IT revolution

In the UK, the development of information technology has often been the driving force for organisational change. Information technology makes it possible to handle vast quantities of information at the touch of a button or computer key. For the AA, this provided an important step forward. With the rising number of motorists in the UK, it was essential to devise quick and easy to operate systems which would take much of the pressure away from more traditional systems. A network of interconnected telephone and computer systems made it possible to respond quickly to urgent customer needs - e.g. in the case of roadside breakdowns.

Second stage change - doing the market research

In 1989, it was recognised that competitors were being successful in closing the market share gap by developing excellence of customer care. Market research is the key for market focused organisations and gives them the opportunity to discover what customers want and need.

Therefore, in order to understand what members wanted from the AA, a massive and detailed research programme was undertaken. Members were asked:
“What do you want?”
“What are your needs?”

The results of the research were conclusive and provided the AA with a clear agenda for continuous improvement. The benefits required were:

  • The organisation to radiate a “caring attitude”.
  • Be given advice as to what they should do when waiting for a patrol.
  • The car to be repaired at the roadside, or, if the vehicle has to be taken to a garage, it should be to an AA recommended outlet.
  • The AA to warrant the validity of the work carried out.

The survey re-affirmed that the main benefits customers required were:

  1. Repairing the vehicle;
  2. Speed of arrival from the initial call.

Following this market research, a customer satisfaction index was established that tells the AA, on a monthly basis, how members feel about the service received. This is compared with the actual service standards recorded by the AA for every breakdown, to create the index. One in every 34 members who breaks down receives a questionnaire a short time after the incident. Since the index began, more than 200,000 members have responded.

Automobile Association (AA) | Enhancing customer service