Step back in time to 8.30am on Wednesday 21 September. Becci Graham and the Membership Contact Centre team are poised and ready to jump onto the phones on one of the biggest days in the Co-op’s recent history – the launch of our new membership.
“We’ve been waiting for this moment since we arrived here in April,” says Becci Graham, a Change Team Co-ordinator who’s tasked with making sure the 200 plus people answering queries about 5% and 1% know everything they need to.
“On Wednesday morning at 9am we had 40 calls in the queue. Over the last week this floor has been buzzing – everyone has been enjoying it,” she smiles.
Coping with calls
Becci and the 30-strong team based in Manchester, along with colleagues in our Gateshead and Glasgow Contact Centres, have all previously worked in busy environments where there isn’t a moment to draw breath.
So how have the team coped with explaining our new membership to customers on top of navigating a new IT system?
“Once we’d done the training and realised how well membership was going to work we were all buzzing,” she enthuses. “You can hear it in their voices on the phones when they’re having the conversations with customers. They genuinely believe in how good it is.
“Over the last week when it was chocka we had little five-minute breather cards [which you hold up in the air if you need a break] so if it was getting too much people could step away from the phones. That was on top of their normal breaks and lunch.
“It’s really tough having to answer lots of new questions on a brand new system you’re just getting used to but everyone is doing well,” she says.
In a first for the contact centre the sheer volume of calls prompted the lines to open on a Sunday for the first time ever. “We didn’t tell anyone we were open, but we were still taking call after call,” explains Becci.
On launch day last week the number of calls taken by Manchester was 2,592, smashing the forecast of 1,520 by 71%. So does the content of the calls match up to the figures?
“It’s been ridiculously positive,” smiles Becci. “The customers are loving the conversations we’re having – they’re loving the whole journey.”
“The new membership is fantastic – you’re getting 5% so £1 to join is absolutely nothing. It’s not even a hard sell. My Nana does her shopping every day at the Co-op and she buys all Co-op own brand products. Come Christmas she can buy a turkey. The benefits are amazing. What’s not to like about it?” says Becci.
We might think of our current typical member as someone elderly who’s been shopping at the Co-op for decades, but Becci says there’s a new generation calling.
“We are getting the younger generation – late 20s, early 30s. They’re living in the city centres and there’s a Co-op on every corner. Giving back is a big thing to them. To know they can pick a charity – and in a few months’ time ring up to put forward a cause close to their hearts – they’re all for it,” she says.
I just called
With calls at a level not anticipated by the team, what types of questions are people asking on the phones?
“There’s been a variation,” says Becci. “A lot of new sign-ups from Food stores, people asking about the Divi [once we’ve explained it will come back and it’s on top of this new membership, they’re happy] and most asking where their card is. When we’ve explained the cards are being sent over the next four weeks that seems to calm people down,” she laughs.
The team have been enjoying rich conversations with customers, “It’s one of the things I like about working on the phones here. In other businesses you’d be on a call for two minutes and your boss would be tapping his watch. You can’t provide good customer service in two minutes – if they want to know the ins and outs we tell them. We’ll have a conversation with their dog if they want us to!”
With the big public launch of membership to the wider world in January, Becci and the team are ready and prepared. “I think it’s going to taper out and then it’ll hit us like a brick wall in January. It will give everybody a bit of breathing space and time to get lots of admin sorted like name and address changes. Talk to anyone on this floor and everyone is tired out. But the brilliant thing is they’re loving it.”