Reaching for the stars

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Written by Seun Robert-Edomi on 1 December 2012 in Interviews

In the last of our series on the L&D practitioners who scooped prizes at TJ’s 2011 Awards, Seun Robert-Edomi talks to HSBC, winner of two honours

An organisation that created a culture shift to empower its people to deliver the experience their customers wanted was recognised at last year's TJ Awards.

Financial services company HSBC picked up two awards in November 2011. The team had only just sat down after collecting the award for best commercial initiative over 1,000 employees when they were called up again to accept the best customer service programme of the year award.

Debbie Carter, TJ director of research and Awards co-ordinator, said: "The judges felt the project was well managed and there was clear evidence of the programme having an impact on the business and of objectives being achieved. Indeed, this strong business focus was highly commended."

Following on from internal and external research that revealed that its customers wanted to have the confidence to trust the bank, HSBC decided it was necessary to further strengthen its employees' capability, competency and professionalism. It wanted to create an empowered culture, and an environment in which confidence, commitment and ownership were embedded as key attributes in all employees.

A particular focus for its people was to be able to confidently and effectively deal with customers who were facing challenging and emotive life events. Its research suggested that by building trust during these difficult times, customers would have confidence in the bank's ability to manage their finances now and in the future.

The organisation believed that if it addressed those areas, there would be a positive impact on sales, customer satisfaction and employee engagement.

The L&D team met with the project team to understand the desired shift in culture and the context of the learning.

Different samples of customer feedback were reviewed, revealing that the employee approach to dealing with customer complaints was not emotive enough and that employees needed further guidance in how to deal with emotional situations. 

A two-day workshop, incorporating many different exercises including a DVD about how customers are feeling when experiencing challenging and emotive life events, was implemented.

After building up their awareness, learners participated in role-play sessions with trained actors, in which customers were demonstrating raw emotion. Forum theatre was also used for them to identify their own benchmarks of service against a given set of standards.

To support the programme, regular check-point meetings were held with regional teams and external suppliers to monitor progress, implement adjustments and ensure all parties were connected and updated.

Sustainability activities and materials were provided to the branches post-workshop, to embed learning and continue the momentum created at the event.

As a result of the programme, participants reported that they were more confident in dealing with customers experiencing emotive life events. Customers have also said that, since the programme's implementation, they have been treated with more empathy.

Carter praised the scheme and said: "The judges liked the clarity of definition of the business need of this programme that allowed more specific learning objectives to be set around a range of knowledge and skills areas.

"They liked the emphasis on handling 'raw emotion' and the use of theatre to make it real for the learners. They also liked the use of mobile teams during rollout to ensure all branch staff could attend the training together."

Chris Bright, learning specialist at HSBC, said it was "absolutely brilliant" to have won and paid testament to all the people who contributed to the project.

"We entered for four categories and, after losing out in the first two, we were a tad apprehensive," she said.

"To win is absolutely brilliant for us. There was so much hard work that went into this programme and to emerge successful is amazing. I think it's fantastic to be recognised in a room full of industry professionals."

The use of external actors was a key factor in helping to make the initiative a winner, Bright revealed.

"The role play sessions included trained actors and the employees responded really well to that. I think that, along with the fact the programme added true value to the business, helped to make it a winner."

The learning team continually pushed the boundaries, while the senior leadership team enabled branch teams to take part in the workshop together. This was a key factor in making it such an innovative project.

"This programme was innovative in that it formed part of an overall programme that was designed to create a shift in culture in a large organisation," said Bright.

"Senior leadership agreed to replace full teams in a branch with a mobile team to allow the branch team to share the learning experience together. It allowed managers and staff with all levels of experience to practise their skills together and, as such, removed any barriers to development.

"The programmes were scheduled to ensure that all branches within one geographic region could attend, allowing them all to be working towards the same goal at the same time."

For companies looking to do something similar, it is imperative to have the senior leadership team on board, according to Bright.

"Sponsorship at a senior level in the business is critical to the ongoing sustainability of any programme.

"Removing the principle of a hierarchy at a learning event allows all employees to flourish irrespective of experience. It also allows you to stretch the employees in a supportive environment and utilise external expertise to develop the skills of your organisation.

"I think it's crucial to make an investment in your people and you will positively influence customer satisfaction and retention," she concluded.

For more on this year's awards, visit

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