Customer Service Excellence
Integration & HR Manager, Atlas Copco
The buy-in from the employees was very evident, very quickly. The conversations became about ownership and that’s brilliant.
Verified by Atlas Copco
Atlas Copco is a multinational company, with over 38,000 employees worldwide and approximately 2500 employees in the UK and Ireland. The company was founded in Sweden in 1873, operating in the rail industry before diversifying into air compressors. It opened its UK operation in 1919. Atlas Copco sells and services industrial gas and air compressors, dryers, vacuum pumps, construction and demolition tools, pneumatic grinders and drills, and more. The company firmly believes in providing continuous learning for all its employees; in 2015, the IMechE began providing bespoke training courses for Atlas Copco UK’s Compressor division. Seven years’ later, the IMechE continues to evolve the bespoke training courses it provides to Atlas Copco.
Why did Atlas Copco originally approach the IMechE for help?
All 2500 of Atlas Copco’s UK and Irish employees complete the company’s own Customer Care Course. However, the Compressor division, which numbers about 250 staff, wanted to go further and look at how they could further improve their customers’ experience, in particular the Net Promoter Score (NPS). This has been the focus of the courses the IMechE has provided to the Compressor division of Atlas Copco in 2022.
Heather Gallagher, Integration & Human Resources Manager, explains: “With something such as NPS, which is a marketing research metric, it is important not to get fixated on the actual score nor with how the tool works – which can be a danger with engineers who love to know how things work! It’s what NPS can tell you that is important: what behaviours can we modify that will improve customer satisfaction and encourage customers to recommend us?”
Why did Atlas Copco choose the IMechE?
The company had worked with many training providers but were drawn to the IMechE’s offer of a bespoke training course. Megan Schwegmann, HR Business Specialist, who organises training courses for Atlas Copco, says: “Even though not all our employees are engineers, we tend to be quite technical – I would say we have an engineering mindset. The IMechE trainers understood that; it felt like engineers talking to engineers. Also, their trainers impressed us with the depth they went to, to really understand our company and our culture – it was as if they were an extension of our business.”
How did IMechE design the course?
John Hattam is the trainer who led the course for the IMechE. “IMechE training really divides into two halves. There’s about 50% that is very much mechanical engineering training, things like Design for Manufacturability, Failure Modes and Effects Analysis (FMEA), Technical Report Writing and so on. The other half is soft skills, though I prefer to call them core skills: leadership, negotiation, presentation skills, customer service, as with this course, and a whole raft of other areas. The core skills are my area of specialism.
“We always do two or three immersion days with the client company. This is where we visit different offices, go on site with engineers and get our hands dirty. That gives a real insight into the company and its culture. For instance, with Atlas Copco nearly 50% of revenues in the UK are generated by servicing equipment rather than capital sales. So, you can see why Customer Service is so important. These in-depth interviews are the secret sauce.
“We start to build the course by creating a broad outline or skeleton with the main blocks or areas we must cover, and then add flesh with other conversations that relate to the main blocks. We talk this over with the client and tweak as required. We continue to refine the content until we have something everyone is happy with. The important thing is that the course is bespoke to that company – we really make an effort and I think it shows in the quality of the work.”
Can you give an example of a topic?
John: “One of the questions we ask the delegates is: ‘Why do people buy the service from Atlas Copco?’ The delegates work in groups and will normally come up with about 10 or 12 reasons. But there are far more – so far, I’ve got a list of about 65 reasons! So, I share that list and it becomes clear that a purchasing decision is not primarily about price. There are lots of things that can play a part. When we understand those, we can help Atlas Copco’s staff change how they interact with customers and that will in turn improve their customers’ experience.”
How was the course from the delegates point-of-view?
“I’ve been with Atlas Copco for 33 years,” says Steve Bennett, a Service Mechanical Engineer, who completed this course in May 2022. “I’ve taken many courses and you always learn something but this one was very good. Trainers like John can make all the difference – you learn new ways of handling things and there are tips you can pick up. We were staying in the same place as John, so I was able to chat with him in the evening after the course and pick up even more tips.”
What did delegates learn?
Sam Barber is a Project Engineer who has just joined the company full time. “I’m 24 and at the start of my career. I did an industrial placement year at Atlas Copco when I was at Hertfordshire University – it’s great to be back. This training session was really interesting. The section that stuck with me most was an exercise about identifying who our customers are at each stage of the sales supply process. It helped me realise that it’s not just who I am speaking to on the phone or the end users. It might be someone on site or a person I am dealing with in HR – I didn’t necessarily think of them as customers, but they are. It helps you realise that although we have interactions with dozens of different people, they are all individuals. You need to communicate with them as individuals, so that the business processes can be carried out really effectively.”
Debbie Kent, Customer Experience Coordinator, has taken the course twice – once in 2017 and again in early 2022. “This time, it wasn’t really about the customer. It was about how we respond to the customer and our communication to the customer. That’s an important difference. A key element for us is getting customer surveys back, as without those you can’t learn anything. So, we have made changes to the way we send our surveys out. For example, ensuring they are sent out soon after the customer has interacted with us, so it’s fresh in their minds; or correcting email delivery errors the next day, rather than waiting to do them all at the end of the month when people will have forgotten what happened. They are little things – obvious in a way – but it has increased our response rate, and that gives us a more accurate picture of what is happening.
“For me personally, the course has made think a bit more carefully and ask the right questions. So, the customer knows we will sort things out, even if they phoned through to the wrong person. That’s great for the customers and great for the company.”
What was the outcome for Atlas Copco?
Heather: “The buy-in from the employees was very evident, very quickly. The conversations became about ownership and that’s brilliant.”
Megan: “Over the past seven years we’ve been doing this, we have seen a significant increase in customer satisfaction, judging from the improvement in our NPS ratings. It feels as if we are in a really good place moment.”
John: “As we talk a lot about NPS in the course, it seems only fair to ask the delegates to evaluate the actual course using NPS. I am pleased to say the scores have come in at 58 – which is sits in the banding of ‘great/excellent’.”
Heather: “More than 500 employees have completed the programme since we first ran it. Atlas Copco is very committed to investing in personal development and learning – it's a highly strategic part of our business. We know that companies which invest in the right things, get the right things out. This course is definitely one of those ‘right things’.”
Megan: “We run the course every two years. We’ve just run one, so we’ll be back again in two years!”
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