Archive for July, 2014

Interview with Chris Thornton, Managing Director – Auto Windscreens, United Kingdom

It’s always an interesting exercise looking at automotive aftermarket retailers that excel in the industry they compete to understand reasons for their success. It doesn’t matter where in the world a company operates; be it in the United States, Canada, Brazil, the United Kingdom or elsewhere in the world. Those companies that do standout and outclass rivals, take on market leaders in the industry they compete and are recognized for the high levels of service they provide to customers, deserve our admiration, respect and emulation. One such company is based in the United Kingdom. Auto Windscreens is headquartered in Derbyshire, in a town named Chesterfield 150 miles north of London. Originally formed in 1971 Auto Windscreens has gone through a number of evolutions to get the company to where they are today. Auto Windscreens is the United Kingdom’s fastest growing and most dynamic provider of (auto) glass repair and replacement services (AGRR). Suffice it to say that the company has a lot of things going for it right now.

AW_logo with strapline

Auto Windscreens has won several prestigious awards over the past several years. Among them:

  1. At this year’s 2014 British Insurance Awards Winner Auto Windscreens won top honors for two award categories:
    1. Customer Care Award
    2. Service Supplier of the Year
  2. Both in 2014 and 2013 they were recognized by The Sunday Times being selected as one of the “Best 100 Companies to Work For”.
  3. Auto Windscreens was ranked second in the United Kingdom and when the received recognition as a “Top 50 Call Centres for Customer Service” in 2011. At the same time they were also named the “Best Newcomer” and the “Best Service Provider”.

These are very impressive awards for any company. George Bernard Shaw said, “Imitation is not just the sincerest form of flattery – it’s the sincerest form of learning.” I think that there is a lot automotive retailers can learn from Auto Windscreens.

Chris Thornton is the Managing Director (the U.K.’s version of Chief Executive Officer) of Auto Windscreens and I thought hearing from him on a number of topics would be interesting to readers of this blog. Chris took over as Auto Windscreens’ Managing Director earlier this year.

Chris Thornton

 

DR: Thank you for taking the time to talk Chris.

CT: My pleasure David. I like nothing better than talking about Auto Windscreens

DR: Auto Windscreens has certainly seen some great successes of late. What do you believe are key the reasons for the company’s successes?

CT: It’s all about being the best at everything we do in delivering the finest service possible to our customers. And in order to do so every member of the team has to play their part. As we offer a Customer Satisfaction Survey to every customer, we can see exactly where and when we are delivering this outstanding service and where we may have some improvements to make

DR: What were some of the issues (positive and/or negatives) you and your management team faced in moving the company forward after you joined Auto Windscreens in 2013?

CT: The atmosphere and approach within Auto Windscreens is outstanding. Everyone knows what we are looking to achieve and how to get there. I am a firm believer in clear and regular communications within the business.

Our biggest challenge is maintaining this as we expand. Many of the UKs biggest insurers and fleets are in discussion with us at the moment as we are clearly THE automotive glass company to be dealing with.

That expansion impacts across our business and one critical area is recruiting and developing technicians to work at the same high standards as we do now. At the end of the day we are a people business.

DR: Of the issues you’ve mentioned which one do you feel made the biggest difference in getting everyone focused on providing customer excellence?

CT: Communication and training is essential.

From the moment we take the customer call, the focus is on finding the right appointment to fit the customer needs. Our automated system generates a selection of appointments for the customer to choose from and once selected the appointment is guaranteed. We spend a lot of time training our contact centre agents in both call handling and technical skills.

Auto Windscreens has the only accredited training centre in the UK. Our facility not only provides an excellent workshop environment for new starters but on-going training, development and advancement to higher qualification.

All our technicians are kept fully up to date with the latest information. All work is processed on Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs) which have a detailed Technical and Training programme on them to support the technician. In addition our Training department supports the technicians with a team of field based trainers and a 24 hour support line.

DR: How have the partnerships Auto Windscreens has made with insurance and fleet customers improved your customer service?

CT: Both insurers and fleets have recognized the quality Auto Windscreens have brought to the industry. We demonstrate this through leading Management Information and more critically through Customer Satisfaction Surveys and Net Promoter Score.

Our surveys are both offered by Auto Windscreens and through an independent survey analyst which creates total transparency for our clients. In turn they have total confidence in Auto Windscreens in our service delivery.

DR: Can you provide an understanding how your value proposition is resonating with your customers? How does your relationship with your customers differ from what other competitors offer?

CT: In 2011 we noticed that customers were regularly getting in touch with us to thank us for the quality of the work they had received. This told us we were doing something right.

From this we created the Praise Log, an internal document sent to everyone in the business each month showing where customers had called to say “Thank You”. And our people love to see their names on there.

This has expanded as customers write about their experiences on review sites such as reviewcentre.com. This is totally independent and Auto Windscreens have a 96% recommendation rate. It is the consumer trust in our brand that is making the difference.

DR: Your company focuses a great deal on providing management information systems to customers to help them find ways to reduce costs and operate more efficiently; how do you feel that helping them understand their windscreen losses is a winning strategy for Auto Windscreens?

CT: Management Information is critical in every business and we support our clients by providing them with the information they need to enhance customer experience and in doing so boosting customer retention.

The information also helps reduce wastage and controls cost but our clients are now being driven by quality rather than cost alone.

DR: How does Auto Windscreens use social media (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Google+, etc.) to interact with its customers? Do you feel it is time well spent for anyone operating in the retail automotive after-market?

CT: The world of communications has changed significantly in the last decade and like many businesses we have had to adapt. Our marketing department manages our social media accounts not only promoting our business but monitoring and responding to any questions.

It is very worthwhile as it brings us closer to our customers and helps identify trends before our competitors

DR: How many fitting centres, mobile service units and employees does the company currently have?

CT: We have over 40 branches covering the UK (it’s a lot smaller than the USA) more than 350 mobile service units and over 500 staff in total

DR: Do you see further growth for Auto Windscreens in the United Kingdom? With the success you’re enjoying, are there any thoughts of growth outside of the United Kingdom?

CT: Our focus in firmly on the UK for the foreseeable future. It offers great opportunities for us as we expand. We will not get distracted by expansion alone, the key is to continue delivering the best service in the industry.

DR: With the great success Auto Windscreens has found in recent years while facing a large competitor, can you offer some advice to those who also find themselves competing against companies bigger than they are in a market or country?

CT: I believe you need to set your stall out and get your team on board in delivering this. Our message has been Total Customer Satisfaction from our beginnings which meant everybody has to play their part.

DR: Do you use radio or television to reach customers?

CT: We have in the past but not currently. 

DR: What is the most effect way to reach targeted customers?

CT: If you win the corporate accounts then the volume will come. If those clients will support you as the only option for replacement glass and repairs then the business is as good as guaranteed.

DR: Auto Windscreens was a winner in the 2006 Commercial Fleet World Honours – The Environment Award. I know that you and your company have a strong commitment to green initiatives by recycling 100% of the windscreens that you replace. When did this initiative begin and what has been the response from Auto Windscreens’ customers?

CT: 2006! That was a few years back but we are as proud of our environmental credentials now as we were then. We are in a world where recycling is promoted greatly and we have always led in our industry with green policies. Our customers have always been supportive of this approach which started more than 20 years ago. Our resources are finite so we must use them wisely

DR: I read on your web site that 40 replaced windscreens that you recycle fit on a skid, while the materials required for 40 repairs can fit in the palm of a hand. By your commitment to repairing windscreens Auto Windscreens is providing great value to its customers while also fulfilling your green initiative strategy to help reduce the effect replacements have to the environment. That is a strong endorsement for repairing over replacing. How do your customers view your commitment to repair? Can you give us a range of repair rates you see in the United Kingdom?

CT: The repair rates vary by customer type but can be up to 50% of our work. Our customer base encourages repair over replacement and so wherever we can safely make a repair we will.

DR: During my career I spent a fair amount of time in the United Kingdom and I greatly value all that I learned from those I worked with while in country. There is one service component that is offered by your company (and other windscreen companies in the United Kingdom) that hasn’t caught on in the North America and that is 24/7/365 service* with mobile units. Your web site touts that, “Our fitting centres are open from 8:30am till 5:30pm Monday to Friday and on Saturdays from 8:30am to 12:30pm. Outside these hours, work is carried out by our team of mobile technicians who are on call 24 hours a day every day of the year.” Can you provide the reason why this type of service is offered in the United Kingdom and what percentage of work is done outside of the normal fitting centre operating hours?

* Since 1981 windscreens in the U.K. have been laminated. Prior to that date tempered glass was used for some windscreens.

CT: It has been customer led and is for “emergency” work such as broken rear and side glass. We cannot allow customers to be left stranded in a vehicle that cannot be driven or is insecure. Such urgent requests may be low in volume but very high in importance.

DR: What do you feel are the strengths and weaknesses of Auto Windscreens and what are you doing to take advantage or fix them?

CT: Some of our IT infrastructure was getting old so we have created a data centre, 24 hour IT monitoring team and issued new PDAs to all technicians. This significant investment will cover our requirements for the next 10 years.

Our strengths are many. Our independence allows us to develop the business as we need without interference from head offices, shareholders or partners. Our clear leadership in high quality service provision is proving very difficult for our competitors to get close to and as we further develop this, the gap will increase.

And as technology becomes more prevalent in windscreens, companies who cannot demonstrate and prove that they have the proper training processes in place will fall away.  

DR: I know that you focus a great deal of time and effort on training Technicians. You obviously feel that you’re reaping dividends on these initiatives. Can you give us a brief overview of your company’s approach to training?

CT: By having highly skilled technicians we have created a team that is prepared to go that extra mile and takes pride in its work. The training starts from the moment a technician, either skilled or a new recruit, joins the business and that training never ends.

It may take place at our Technical Training Centre or through field accompaniments. All technicians are assessed annually to ensure they continue to work to the standards expected of them whether a repair technician , replacement technician  or a master technician.   

AW technician 1

DR: You have an amazing Net Promoter Score (NPS) that is off the charts in the mid 90’s. That is the highest number I’ve ever seen in our industry. As a company how have you been able to achieve that result?

CT: We are very proud of Net Promoter Score and Customer Satisfaction results. It has not been easy but by creating a customer centric culture as mentioned previously we have all staff aligned in delivering an outstanding service

DR: With that high level of NPS you’ve been earning a great deal of new business and contracts with fleets and insurers alike. How was Auto Windscreens able to garner this new business from the incumbents?

CT: That’s a question our customers would have to answer but I would say it’s down to the breadth of service we can offer at a rate which works for everyone. As a progressive business with a clear vision we will attract like minded businesses.

DR: I have been very impressed with what you and your team(s) have accomplished at Auto Windscreens. I firmly believe that that some of the strategies and tactics that Auto Windscreens has been employing can be exported to other countries and used by those who are interested in growing and/or making a difference with their company. I appreciate your taking the time to talk with me. I wish you and Auto Windscreens continued great success.

CT: It’s been a pleasure David.

 

Auto Windscreens is a great case study in how to turn a company around and make it into a world class service provider. It takes great leaderships and dedicated teams throughout the business, but I believe that Auto Windscreens has shown how to take on competition (big or small) and consistently win against them by focusing on the needs of each and every customer. I applaud Chris and all at Auto Windscreens for all they’ve accomplished.

Just sayin’.

 

 

Auto Windscreen Training

GQA Qualifications Limited

(Auto Windscreens only offers GQA qualifications to their employees)

GQA Level 2 NVQ Certificate in Windscreen Repair (QCF) (GQA Qualifications Limited)

GQA Level 2 NVQ Certificate in the Principle of Windscreen Repair (QCF) (GQA Qualifications Limited)

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Just Sayin’ Blog – Rube Goldberg Machines and Business

I was recently sitting in an airport waiting for a flight and for 30 minutes I stood mesmerized watching an amazing sculpture designed by George Rhodes known as a ball machine. This wasn’t the first time I’ve seen one of these ball machine sculptures. The first one of Rhodes designs I saw was in the late 1980’s while walking through a terminal at Boston Logan Airport. I remember almost missing my flight watching and listening to the sculpture. This Rhodes sculpture at another airport attracted young and old alike. The sculpture really doesn’t serve any practical purpose, but is an intriguing piece of kinetic art. It’s hard to pull yourself away from watching all that is going on – a sculpture that often uses a combination of drums, cymbals, gongs and depending on your point of view makes either a virtual cacophony or euphony of sounds.

In a way these sculptures remind me of a Rube Goldberg machine. Wikipedia defines a Rube Goldberg machine as follows:

“A Rube Goldberg machine is a contraption, invention, device or apparatus that is deliberately over-engineered or overdone to perform a very simple task in a very complicated fashion, usually including a chain reaction. The expression is named after American cartoonist and inventor Rube Goldberg (1883–1970).”

An Example:

Rube Goldberg Guinness World Record by Purdue Society of Professional Engineers

________

Rube Goldberg and Business

While watching the steel balls that roll endlessly though the intricate Rhodes sculpture I started thinking about examples of how some businesses work effortlessly and continuously in a similar endless fashion. Businesses that provide the same exacting levels of customer service and delivery of a product (or products) over and over again that are a key to success. Some businesses have developed very simple processes to find success while other companies tend to overcomplicate processes in an attempt to achieve success.

While at the sculpture I was holding a Starbucks coffee and that company certainly comes to mind as a business that invariably delivers both simple and very complicated orders efficiently and effectively. This Seattle based company that got its start almost 40 years ago has today become the largest coffeehouse with over 23,000 locations in 64+ countries. I just order a Venti black coffee when standing in line at Starbucks. I can never tell if the barista is happy or somehow saddened by my straightforward order. A Huffington Post blog titled “The Most Obnoxious Starbucks Drink Orders“ details some of the complicated orders at Starbucks such as a ‘Venti Iced Skinny Hazelnut Macchiato, Sugar-Free Syrup, Extra Shot, Light Ice, No Whip’. Now that order would be a challenge to any barista fulfilling Starbucks “delicious, handcrafted beverages” mantra. It makes me smile when I hear someone standing in line ordering a similar concoction. It really doesn’t matter where in the United States or the world you place your order; Starbucks seems to always deliver the same level of consistent service regardless of the local. The company has obviously spent a great deal of time and effort in perfecting the delivery of consistent levels of service, but it all seems pretty simple to the casual observer ordering coffee. Everyone knows that you’re going to have to wait a bit when ordering one of the “delicious, handcrafted beverages” mentioned earlier versus my Venti black coffee order, but those who order the complicated drinks don’t mind. They know they are going to be rewarded with a delicious drink made to order by a barista that has perfected his or her craft. In plain sight the platform seems pretty simple. Do you think that behind the curtain there resides a Rube Goldberg machine? Doubtful.

Can you think of other businesses which deliver products consistently in a simple straightforward manner? Maybe FedEx, Amazon.com or even MacDonald’s could come to mind. Fortune Magazine lists 50 of the “World’s Most Admired Companies” and the top 5 are:

  1. Apple
  2. Amazon.com
  3. Google
  4. Berkshire Hathaway
  5. Starbucks

I’m sure you’d agree that each of these companies is the polar opposite of a Rube Goldberg.

I’ve worked in a business or two that have taken great steps to simplify business processes through employee training and the use of technology in an effort to reduce back office costs that keep company investments focusing on people and growing the platform. And I’ve worked in a business or two that seems compelled to use a Rube Goldberg machine mentality. I think that those who insist on making simple processes overly complicated could find greater success by streamlining operating procedures, but as long as shareholders are pleased with the return on investment, changes in operating styles aren’t likely to happen. In a highly competitive industry companies that are overcomplicated ultimately could be disadvantaged versus others in the same industry that have found ways to reduce the Rube Goldberg machine mentality.

Do you know of businesses in your industry which operate more like a Rube Goldberg machine (deliberately over-engineered or overdone to perform a very simple task)? I’m sure that you do. Noted management doyen Peter Drucker is quoted as saying:

“Only three things happen naturally in organizations: friction, confusion and underperformance. Everything else requires leadership.”

It has to be frustrating for people who work for companies that use complicated procedures or policies in an industry where other companies have found a simpler way of delivering the same service. I’m sure you can come up with some examples in your industry.

So, what’s it like at the company you’re working? Does your company operate more like an Apple, Amazon.com, Google, Berkshire Hathaway and Starbucks; or does it operate more like a Rube Goldberg? Imagine the potential for those companies that operate using a Rube Goldberg machine mentality that pivot to find a better way to provide the services or products they offer. If you look at your company and think you see an area of the business that might resemble a Rube Goldberg machine, perhaps you should seek ways to make it a little less complicated. Isn’t that what leadership is all about?

Just sayin’.

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Just Sayin’ Blog – Road Trip

A few weeks ago we decided to take a road trip. The trip has taken us through Indiana, Michigan, Canada, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Washington, D.C., Virginia, North Carolina and now onto South Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky and then back to Illinois. We could add a couple of other states to the trip. It has been a great road trip. Besides keeping my eyes on the road I also kept an eye out looking for windshields in need of repair or replacement as I have since I entered the auto glass repair and replacement (AGRR) industry. I was also looking for mobile auto glass vehicles along the way.

Road_Signs2

In an article titled “April Miles Driven Increases” that appeared in glassBYTEs.com last week, the web site reported that there was an overall 1.8% increase in miles driven in 2014 versus 2013. Only the Northeast reported fewer miles driven. Based on our experience, the number of vehicles of all types on the road has been pretty amazing. We’ve encountered very heavy traffic everywhere we’ve been so far and, since one of the three key drivers for the AGRR industry is miles driven (the weather and the economy the other two), perhaps this is another good sign for glass breakage and future business….at least in the states visited on this road trip.

I’ve spoken with a number of people who either own or work for AGRR retail and wholesale companies; regardless of the area in the country in which they compete, each says business has been great this year! In other road trips over the past few years there have always been a plethora of windshields in need of repair or replacement on the drive, along with countless plastic and tape wrapped broken door, quarter or back glasses (the “do nothings” – those who break glass and don’t repair or replace it). On this road trip I have been surprised to see very few broken windshields or taped up door, quarter or back glasses. Hopefully this is a sign that people are repairing or replacing glass when it breaks.

I saw the first AGRR mobile van on the road trip in Canada – a Speedy Glass van (I was the President and CEO of Belron Canada in the late 90’s and early 00’s). I didn’t see my next mobile van until I saw a Tiny & Sons Auto Glass mobile van in Massachusetts. I have driven by a number of glass shops on the road trip (and stopped by a few) and I didn’t see any mobile vans parked at the shops so I assumed (hoped) that each was busy doing mobile replacements. I’m in North Carolina now and I haven’t seen any more mobile vans. Odd I think as I see them in Chicago all the time.

After the strong winter season across much of the country we experienced some “Wind at our Backs” which was discussed in previous posts. Perhaps with a steady increase in year-on-year miles driven, and if the economy will come out of the doldrums we will see some positives for the AGRR industry. You still have to have to figure out how to deal with the big guys increasing market share and the brand recognition programs in play. If this year’s weather provided and continues to provide AGRR opportunities, if the miles driven continues to grow providing further opportunities and if the economy going forward gains strength and provides further opportunities; you’ve got something to work with. Not always easy I understand, but if it was easy you’d have a lot more competitors to deal with. You just need to continue to figure out what you can do to push and pull consumers to your business.

Just sayin’.

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