If a parcel is brought to your door by TNT in western Europe, it’s highly likely that you’re dealing with a delivery driver employed directly by the Netherlands-based logistics company, currently being acquired by FedEx. If you’re in Kazakhstan, Botswana or Chile, by contrast, they’re more likely to work for one of the company’s 168 or so associates - entirely separate organizations that work exclusively for TNT.
Either way, as a customer, you shouldn’t be able to tell the difference. Delivery drivers working for a TNT associate typically turn up on your doorstep in a TNT-liveried van and wearing the company’s distinctive orange and black uniform. From the customer’s perspective, they are TNT - and they should offer the same standard of service that the company provides through its own direct operations.
The job of making sure that they do falls to Janet Keeling, the company’s global head of associates customer service. A long-term TNT employee, having worked for the company for 25 years, Keeling took up the newly created role in April 2015. She says:
It’s a great challenge and I’m absolutely loving it. But it’s challenging because, until a year ago, there was no central team and associates were managed on a regional basis. This is the first time they’ve been brought together as a global group, managed centrally, with the goal of aligning our focus on their activities and ensuring some kind of connection between all the regions.”
When I started, I had a blank sheet of paper: we didn’t know how many customer services people associates had, what type of activities they did, whether customers were satisfied or not. There was very little visibility. We obviously knew where [associates] were, but the detail was missing. With a blank sheet, you can go in many different directions, but my priority was to find out what customers tend to contact associates about and what we’re doing about it.
Keeling considered two ways to tackle the problem of capturing the details of incoming and outgoing customer communications, the contact channels used, and the nature of enquiries, complaints and resolutions. The first was simple, Excel spreadsheet-based reporting, but she felt that collecting, collating and analysing spreadsheets from almost 170 associates would take too much time and effort and would be too error-prone. The second was an online application.
She chose the second approach. Having worked previously with Mendix’s cloud-based Rapid Application Development (RAD) platform to build an invoicing app for another part of TNT’s business, she wanted to use the technology again. But first, she wanted to lay some groundwork in terms of determining requirements, before she spoke to the software company. As she explains:
We set about creating a list of the information we needed to collect from our regional customer service staff, and mapping it out, along with the next information-gathering steps, based on the initial option selected. That meant that, within three or four clicks, all relevant information about a customer interaction could be collected.
That took about two weeks, mainly because people had to go away and think about it. If you’ve never built something before, you need time to reflect on which information really matters and how that should be expressed in common wording that everyone will understand, even if English isn’t their first language.
This was time well-spent, she says, because building an app can be easy if you know exactly what you want, but can be torturous if you only have the vaguest notion. Within weeks, Keeling had internal approval to go ahead with the project and was sitting down with a Mendix developer at the software company’s offices in Rotterdam:
This was in June 2015. Within a day and a half, we’d built 80% of the app together. We just needed the graphics, the look and feel - but the core was already in place.
The entire build took just four days in total, before the app was trialled by associates in two countries in each region. Their feedback was overwhelmingly positive - there were plenty of requests for more features and functions, says Keeling, but no criticisms of what was there already.
With trials out of the way, TNT went on to roll out the app as far and as wide as it could. To date, MyCustomerContacts is being used by associates in 28 countries and, as of December, they were capturing details of around 30,000 customer contacts per month (compared to 14,000 per month when the app first hit their desks). Says Keeling:
The nice thing about the app is that it’s using the cloud to access and store data, so I can have the data instantly and it’s in real time. Where I’m at now is helping managers in the associates learn to act on data that they haven’t had or seen before. It’s a question of, ‘What’s this information telling us and how can we use it to create the right priorities in customer service?’
Today, we don’t need more data - we’ve now got what we need. We need to condense the data we’ve got to create meaningful customer service strategies.