Hats off to Homeserve: Purpose, storytelling, symbolic acts and permission climate behind one of the biggest turnarounds in UK business history
I attended the Customer Engagement Summit last week and our Director of Propositions, Steve Bent, was doing a keynote on creating sustainable trust in an organisation and how that will then translate into a great customer experience.
Steve worked the stage like a Rockstar. He had fantastic energy as he delivered a compelling set with all my favourite hits:
- Leaders must create a compelling story
- They must tell it and do it
- They must create a permission culture that allows people to do the brilliant things for customers that they always wanted to do (Deep down, I do believe that people do have the right thing in mind at the beginning).
- Finally, a discussion about one behaviour that really does rock a customer’s world
It was a truly compelling show.
Little did I know however, that Steve was going to be the support act to an awesome case study that really brought to life the very things Steve was discussing. It focused on setting the right climate and telling the right stories linked to the purpose of the organisation: an organic example of the very same things we can generate in your business.
After a brief introduction, Greg Reed, The CEO of Homeserve UK (a home emergency repairs business), stepped onto the stage. Greg had joined at a time where the business was in crisis: shrinking revenue, profits were down, they had huge regulatory fines… owch.
His story, however had more turn arounds than your favourite blues rock album…
- Employee engagement hit a low 56% in 2012. In a more recent engagement survey, 82% of their people said they were proud to work there
- In 2018, Greg was named ‘best leader’ and ‘most progressive workplace leader’ at the talent unleashed awards
- It achieved a revenue of £457.7m for the six months to 30 September 2019, up from £404.3m during the same period in 2018.
- Back in 2016, a survey revealed that 66% of Homeserve leaders felt their career ambitions were being met, just one year later, it had shot up to 83%
- In 2016 only 49% of new leaders were hired internally, in 2017 that rose to 68%
- Its customer base touches 2.3 million and is on track to reach 3 million by 2020.
Where Steve had described what a customer transformation journey needed to look like, this guy had totally and utterly embodied it. And that’s what this blog is all about.
Creating clarity, crafting a consistent and compelling story.
How do you tell it, do it and engage the whole organisation in it?
Firstly, he discussed why he’d joined the business rather than stay in a cosy, corner office in the world of banking. He said he’d joined because, while providing loans to people can be helpful, profiting off their lack of access to money (or actually in worst cases, completely upheaving their lives), wasn’t the reason he wanted to wake up every morning.
Homeserve’s purpose, on the other hand, is to help people in emergencies. That’s a noble thing to do. But when he joined the organisation, he spoke to their top 100 leaders and he asked them what kind of business they thought they were in. And guess what? He got 100 or so different answers. Some key themes came out, but they did not fully connect to the purpose of the organisation.
The story was inconsistent.
So, he worked with people of all levels, including customers as well, to rewrite the purpose, the Homeserve employee values and their customer promises.
Organisations have all done that, what’s so special about this one?
Well, he made sure that every one of his leadership told the right story (in their own way, of course) and he was nudging them every time they slipped back into old ways.
What else? He made sure that they went out and told it, engaging the whole organisation.
He also topped it all off by showing the organisation that he cared about this. One great example of this is described below
Creating a climate of permission
Given that Homeserve was an organisation that helped people out in emergency situations, Greg wanted to create an environment where people could do the right thing for customers. He created an initiative where employees can suggest something that the business can invest in that will create great outcomes for customers (no matter how absurd!). It would be fully funded by the company and there would be no budget cap assigned to it. If it was a good idea, they would do it. People submit their ideas by email and these are collated each day and shared with the leadership and board for review.
One absolute corker of an example of the ideas box initiative came from one of their engineers. Homeserve engineers go out to homes and do the repairs, and, over time, these guys and girls would really get to know the people in their community. This story is a testament to one particular engineer’s character, as much as it is to their business.
The engineer in question knew this customer quite well. She was an elderly lady, she always greeted him warmly, with a cup of tea, before engaging in a lovely discussion about their lives since they last spoke. She was a jolly, grateful customer. The engineer turns up to her house to fix her boiler, he rings the bell and she doesn’t answer which is really unusual. At this point, he’s not thinking ‘there’s a job to be done’, he is of course thinking ‘what’s the right thing to do for this customer, this person that I know?’.
So he starts to peer through the windows and he goes around the back of the house, looking for her.
In one of the windows, he spots her on the floor, unconscious. She’s not moving.
He breaks the window, jumps through and because he had some basic first aid training, he does CPR and he saves her life.
He then fixes the boiler and fixes the window he smashed. Legend. Or, what we would call at Blue Sky, a positive deviant.
He goes back to the office and tells his story. He’s speaking to another colleague and they say ‘God, I don’t know if I’d be able to do that. I don’t have the skills to’.
So guess what appears in the ideas box the following morning? Training every single one of their engineers in first aid.
Now the finance guys were, of course, naturally sceptical. They turned to him and said, ‘this is going to cost £250k, are you sure you want to do this?’. He says, ‘absolutely’.
Since training all their people, they have saved another 4 lives. Incredible.
This is a fantastic example of permission culture. It’s a great demonstration of doing the story. And it’s also, another great story to then perpetuate the amazing customer centric culture that Homeserve have created.
Now you’re sitting there thinking, ‘this all sounds expensive and I bet this doesn’t look great on the balance sheet’. Guess what? Their performance rocketed.
Better Customer Service, better business outcomes?
The change in performance has not only delivered better outcomes for customers but also enabled them to avoid a series of regulatory fines that their competitors couldn’t escape…
Storm Doris hit the UK a few years ago and it created chaos for them and all their competitors. Loads of people were in dire need of their services.
Homeserve were the only business that managed to get through to all of their customers. Meanwhile, many of their competitors were fined large sums of money for failing.
How did this happen? Everyone mucked in. Greg came into the office on a Saturday and people were working; managers and leaders were on the phones, talking to customers, registering them on the system. Even though they didn’t have the capability to do that necessarily, they found a way around it and did it.
Now people coming in over the weekend and working, you’re probably thinking ‘God that’s awful, that’s the last thing you want!’ But actually none of those people were asked to do that. They did it, on their own volition, because over the past few years of having Greg as a leader, they had fully connected to the purpose of the organisation. The business they were in was about helping people in emergencies and they were going to do exactly that.
So hats off to homeserve.
I think it’s an amazing example of how to lead a business by purpose and how to create the permission by which people in that organisation, on mass, can do the right thing for the customer.
While we don’t work with homeserve, this really shows the impact of an organisation that picks up these things and when a leadership team rally around it, you can achieve incredible things. Your achievements are not only for your customers, but can turn around a flailing business.