How we are changing customer relationships

We are changing how we work with customers through our operation YMCA Awards. Rob May, YMCA Awards director, explains why.

Awarding organisations – and the education providers which deliver our qualifications – are facing an unprecedented tsunami of change. Technological advancements, reforms in policy, regulation and funding all offer fresh challenges.

But as we navigate this changing world and work to maintain the effective delivery of our qualifications, we are also mindful that we don’t want to forget our customers. Especially as these days it seems that the distinction between producer (supplier) and customer is starting to become increasingly blurred…

Enter - the ‘Prosumer’.

“Ask people what they dream of, and they tell you one or two things that will never change.”

The Prosumer

The idea of prosumers has been around for a while. The term was first coined by the American writer and futurist Alvin Toffler in the 1980s. But social networks, crowdfunding, progress in content-creation technology and faster access to information means that the ability for consumers to take part in the production process – especially in specifying design requirements – has now caught up with Toffler’s ideas.

In the UK education sector, everywhere I look I see examples of innovation: providers embracing technology in the classroom (and beyond); initiatives that connect employers with learners; colleges and vendors working together to implement customised learning solutions; new models of learning delivery; providers merging subjects to create uber-skilled professionals; uses of mobile and wearable technology to enhance engagement; and performance monitoring.

In fact I see value being created just about everywhere across the teaching and learning spectrum.

For me, these naturally occurring innovations provide a fantastic opportunity. I don’t want a costly and rigid R&D model that simply pushes out new products and services to relatively passive customers. And I don’t think our customers want that either.

We have thousands of interactions with customers every year and are well-placed to capture innovation when we see it happening, organise it and disseminate effective practice back out to our clients.

At YMCA Awards, we invite our Platinum Partners to collaborate with us on new ideas and pilot new learning products and services. We help our clients share their exceptional learning content to the wider learning community and at the same time forge new revenue streams. And we facilitate the sharing of ideas through customer forums, seminars and webinars.

But we could go further…

Our new approach

The rapid decentralisation of the innovation process means that we can add more value, more quickly, but we must have the mechanisms in place in order to react.

For many awarding organisations, centre quality assurance and customer service teams operate as largely disconnected units.

The quality assurance team provides customers with support to ensure that assessment and delivery arrangements are fit for purpose. This is important – and we work hard to maintain public confidence in our brand and in our qualifications by monitoring the education providers that offer them.

At the same time, our customer service team handles a wide variety of issues for customers such as support with systems, administration, training, troubleshooting and billing.

Both of these teams interact with customers many times daily, in the process capturing valuable insights. So I believe that by combining them under one function we can offer a stronger overall approach to improving our service.

Why? Because we will gain a better understanding of our customers’ challenges and can anticipate and respond to customers’ needs more effectively through improved communication and information flows.

Changes in customer support

We’re doing pretty well already. Our 2015/16 Customer Satisfaction Survey revealed that 93% of our customers would recommend us.

But we don’t take that for granted.

Customer support should extend beyond the traditional ‘after-sales’ service. We want to create a distinctive, helpful experience across all of our online and offline touchpoints – at every stage of our customers’ and learners’ journey. That is why this new function will also be backed with operations capability. This will help us build efficient processes and service features.

Our new Quality and Customer Experience function will be led by Ali Gower, a senior management stalwart, who seems to have her very own fan club amongst our customers!

Ali will have an extended remit to make sure that each of our functions think about how their decisions can shape the best overall customer experience, whilst maintaining the high-quality that has led customers to describing YMCA Awards as the ‘gold standard’ in qualifications (Customer satisfaction survey 2015/16).

Part of Ali’s role will also in be to set up ‘listening posts’ across our many customer touchpoints. These will help us identify trends and issues more quickly.

That’s why I’m announcing the creation of a new function at YMCA Awards – Quality and Customer Experience.

Looking at the bigger picture

The importance of identifying customer needs early on cannot be underestimated, but more than that, I want us to look at our customers’ bigger picture. As Bruce Nussbaum, author of Creative Intelligence, puts it:

“Ask people what they need and they will have a list of ten or 20 things. The list will change from morning to night, from day to day. Ask people what they dream of, and they tell you one or two things that will never change.”

I know that our customers are passionate about education. For many it’s their life’s work, their vocation, or even their very own business. After a lot of blood, sweat and tears it’s the realisation of a dream.

That’s why, as an education business partner, it’s crucial that we listen to our customers, support them fully on their journey and help to achieve those dreams.

Rob May is Director of YMCA Awards. Read more updates about YMCA Awards.