Page 2: Embracing innovation
The most significant change that has affected service organisations in advanced industrial economies in the last quarter of the twentieth century has been the widespread utilisation of information and communications technology. The most successful organisations have been those that effectively researched, analysed and then embraced these changes.
In 1991, The Equitable was regarded as a successful provider of life assurance and pensions products. It was seen as a company that offered good quality products and had a reputation for sound customer service. However, the Society recognised that it needed to keep moving to stay ahead of its competitors. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, a series of changes were planned involving the introduction of new technology designed to change radically the customer service operation.
One example of this resulted from a visit in 1990 by a team of senior managers from The Equitable to see an image processing system in operation. That system allowed incoming paper documents to be scanned onto an image terminal and viewed electronically by any number of client servicing assistants at once. The original paper document was then stored for a limited period of time before being destroyed.
The benefits of reduced paper storage and speed of service were so apparent that a decision was made to implement this system at The Equitable and so create a paperless office.
The ‘old style client servicing operation’
In order to understand the magnitude of the changes implemented, we must first outline the background to what is now termed the ‘old style client servicing operation’. Modern business practice focuses on the customer and identifying and meeting the customer’s individual needs. Intelligent organisations have had to restructure the way in which they are organised to ensure the correct customer focus.
Until the early 1990s, The Equitable’s client servicing operation was structured in a traditional manner. Each major product was supported by its own department, e.g. life assurance, personal pensions and unit trusts. Clients who had a query regarding their policy would initially contact their local branch office who would then forward the enquiry to the head office in Aylesbury.
Within the Aylesbury head office, each area dealing with a particular product was then divided into departments dealing with a specific function, e.g. new business, renewal premiums, medical evidence, general servicing and claims payments. Processing across the organisational boundaries was common place as a customer often had queries about two different types of policy or two or more functions of an individual policy. In these circumstances, the letter would be photocopied and passed to the different departments. Alternatively, the letter would be answered in part by one area then passed to colleagues in another department. This meant that the customer either received more than one letter in answer to their query, or after a considerable delay, a combined response.
All departments at this time relied heavily on paper records and retrieval of the records often caused lengthy delays as necessary documents were being used by another department or because papers were misfiled. Paper processing also meant that only one member of staff could work with a document at a time and this often led to problems in tracing documents if a customer telephoned to discuss their case. This approach meant that it was difficult to react quickly to a customer’s needs and it left the Society open to the consequences of any disaster, such as a fire or flood, when paper records could be destroyed.