What is the Society's approach to customer service?

This week we are supporting the Institute of Customer Service’s National Customer Service Week. Today’s theme is Driving Sustainable Growth. How do organisations ensure they develop and evolve their service for long-term success?

We asked our Director of Customer Service, Melanie Mildenhall, a few questions about Newbury Building Society’s approach to service development and sustainable delivery.

What is Newbury's approach to customer service? How do we create a service culture?

Our purpose, values and corporate objectives are all about our customers, and this is where creating and maintaining a customer service culture begins. 

As a mutual organisation, owned by our members (our savers and borrowers, rather than external shareholders), the 'customer first' approach we adopt is front and centre of everything we do. This applies to large initiatives, like refurbishing our branch network or introducing a digital enhancement such as our upcoming mobile app, to smaller 'business as usual' changes such as launching a new savings or mortgage product or reviewing interest rates following a Bank of England rate decision. Balancing the differing and often opposing needs of savers and borrowers makes for some difficult decisions at times, and we are conscious of our role in ensuring we make these decisions in the interests of long-term value for our customers, aligned to our purpose, and to support our wider responsibility to ensure the Society's future sustainability.

Our employees are key to making this happen, so involving them in our plans and encouraging them to contribute and be part of them, supports our service culture, as well as having the right recruitment, learning, wellbeing, recognition, and reward programs in place. 

Our employees are our greatest asset when it comes to customer service, whether that's directly supporting customers face to face in branches or on the telephone, or indirectly by head office colleagues. We are clear about what the expectations are and our customer charter, which sets out our service promises, applies to both customers and employees, reinforcing the importance of internal customer service in driving the right outcomes for our savers and borrowers.

How do we assess how our customers and employees feel about our culture and approach to service?

Measuring customer service is necessary to understand what our customers are experiencing and how that matches up to our values and customer charter promises. It also helps us to understand what customers want from us, what we do well and what we can improve. 

We measure customer service in 3 main ways:

  • Firstly, the independent UK body for customer service excellence, the Institute of Customer Service (ICS), carries out formal surveys every 18-months as part of our Service Mark accreditation, which we were awarded at distinction level in 2022. There are two surveys, one for customers and one for our employees, which ask a number of questions designed to enable us to understand how we are performing and how we compare to other organisations. For example, in 2022, our net promoter score (based on the question how likely you would recommend us to friends and family) was 72 (on a scale of -100 to 100) against the banks and building society average of 30. 

  • Secondly, we ask customers to rate and review us on the financial services ratings site 'Smart Money People' based on their latest interaction with us. This provides us with real time quantitative and qualitative feedback to gauge performance in between the formal ICS surveys and verbatim comments that help us identify themes and make small changes to processes to enhance customer experience. 

  • Thirdly, we use events such as our Annual General Meeting (AGM) and Member Talks to give an opportunity for customers to talk to senior leaders face to face. We also have a member forum online. 

All the feedback we receive through the ICS, Smart Money People and our events/forum is collated and reported through to our Executive and Board and used to inform strategic and operational advancements. We are transparent about our performance and publish our results to customers and employees.

Why is customer service so important in the context of growth? How does a focus on service move us forward as an organisation?

Growth is vital for sustainability. As a leadership team, we see ourselves as custodians of Newbury Building Society. The Society existed long before we did (I can confidently say none of us were around in 1856), and our desire is that it exists well into the future to support generations of savers and borrowers to come. 

Whilst we can't predict the future, we can do our best to ensure that we grow our business to ensure we remain financially sound and to invest in what's important to our customers so that we retain them and attract new ones. 

Research by the Institute of Customer Service shows that organisations that consistently outperform their sector for customer satisfaction also achieve stronger levels of growth. This is underpinned by an explicit focus on values, behaviours and culture and addressing short term challenges whilst maintaining a long-term focus. Our customer service strategy is to do just this, enabling us to build trust (so important in financial services) and loyalty, and in turn customers who are advocates for the Society who recommend us to their friends, colleagues, and families. 

It's a simple concept but not all organisations achieve it. I genuinely believe we have, but we are not complacent and are always striving to do better. The world is changing fast, and we need to stay on our toes to ensure we stay relevant in the years to come.

Why are we a supporter of the 'Service with Respect’ campaign?

'Service with Respect' is a campaign led by the Institute of Customer Service (ICS) to highlight the issues experienced by employees in the service sector from customer abuse, ranging from verbal abuse such as shouting and abusive language to, in the most extreme cases, physical assaults. After much campaigning, the ICS was instrumental in a change in the law to protect customer-facing workers from such abuse.

At Newbury Building Society, we rarely see extreme behaviour, but from time to time our colleagues can be subject to shouting and verbal abuse. This is not acceptable. Our people come to work to do a job and have our customers best interests at heart. Sometimes things go wrong, and we want to put things right, but we need our customers to work with us. Most of the time they do of course, but if they don't and they are abusive, we will protect our employees first and foremost, and we empower them to have the confidence to refuse to serve these customers.

We support 'Service with Respect' as it aligns with our values - in fact 'Respect' is one of our six core values, along with sustainability, trust, independence, vibrancy, and excellence. We value our employees and want them to feel part of the Newbury family. Families support and protect each other. No-one should feel uncomfortable or threatened when they are at work.

Any other thoughts/comments on NCSW or the topic of 'driving sustainable growth'?

National Customer Service Week is an opportunity to recognise the 80% of people in the UK who work in customer-facing roles and to also celebrate our own employees and their customer service achievements. 

We are very proud to be the only bank or building society with the Institute of Customer Service's distinction level ServiceMark accreditation and that really is testament to our employees, who our customers consistently say are what they value most about us.

If you have any questions about our customer service, please do contact us. If you'd like to provide feedback on your experience with us, we welcome it through our feedback form on this website or through the Smart Money People independent review site, where you will be asked for your email address. 

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