In this podcast Meg speaks with Emma Hares, an Operational Manager at Companies House. They discuss our brilliant services and how they give great user experience. This is the second podcast in a six part series, each one discussing our strategic goals.
Megan Hayward: Hello and welcome to another podcast episode of “Meet the team” by Companies House. We have recently launched our new five-year strategy and one our strategic goals is ‘Our brilliant services that give a great user experience’. Our customers are at the heart of everything we do and today I am here with Emma Hares, who is an Operational Leader at Companies House. Emma is going to give us an insight into how that great user experience is provided and the inner workings of the team that speak to our customers every day. Thanks for joining me Emma, how are you?
Emma Hares: Thank you for having me. I am really good, thank you.
MH: Oh, good. So, I am just going to jump straight in with my first question. I remember us having a meeting back in January in the office before all of this working from home started. So, how have you adapted to working from home in 2020. I remember saying that I did it, you know, on and off and I knew that other teams, the directorate, would work from home from time to time but you were like “Oh, that’s not really an option for us. We don’t do that. We are only in the office”. So, how have you found it? How has it been?
EH: Yeah, well, it feels like such a long time ago that we had that conversation now. So, not only a long time ago in time but a long time ago in our technical abilities to work remotely as well. So, some of the operational area could already work from home but it depended on their job role. But they really were the minority of the area really. At the time we spoke in January, we were definitely planning to enable a lot more people to work at home, but we wanted to make sure that we were fully supporting them to do that. Especially, our customer facing colleagues. I’d say we were looking at taking about 18 months for us to get there all together but got a big push from COVID and it ended up taking us a few weeks to roll it out. It was a massive co-ordination of which work streams are priority and who needs what type of equipment and stuff. So, but, throughout all of that time, the safety of our colleagues has been the absolute priority and enabling as many people as possible to stay at home was always top of the list. And, it hasn’t just been keeping people safe in a physical sense but also their mental wellbeing. So, we’ve done a lot of communication to make sure people are talking regularly and checking in on how people are and really trying to keep the amazing sense of community going, that is really loved by so many people in Companies House.
EH: So, but I would say that even though we have got the vast majority of people working at home, some of the work we do in the operational area can’t be done at home. So, we do still have a small number of people in the building. But, a lot of work is being done to provide a safe environment for us to be working in when we are in the building. So, it’s a complete change of direction from what we were in in January working towards smarter ways of working, sharing desks and taking up less space in the office and now we are in a situation where we’ve got our own desks spread really far apart with lots of hygiene and social distancing measures in place. And I would just like to add one thing to that as well that it’s really important that we’ve got someone in the building because we do provide a service to our NHS tenants. And without us being in the building, we wouldn’t have been able to do that during the lockdown. So, that’s been something that has been just as important for internal customers as our external customers.
MH: Yeah, definitely. So, how have you found that balance between delivering our excellent services and protecting our colleagues. It really is a fine line, isn’t it?
EH: Yeah. So, as I said, the safety of our colleagues has been the most important thing, but we are here for our customers. So, continuing to provide a service to them was still important to us. During the first few months of working from home, we weren’t able to provide a telephone service, just simply because we didn’t have the equipment to do that remotely. But our contact centre have been brilliant with supporting us with that and they’ve maintained that service to our customers throughout. So, if there were any occasions where they needed to pass on some more specific queries to the wider teams, they did that via email. And we saw an increase in over 200% in volumes in some areas which was really challenging. Some of our services were slower. But we are really proud to say that we maintained services to our customers. So, at the time, our customers were using our information to make some extremely important decisions in relation to things like share capital and lending money and putting people on furlough. So it was, you know, really important we were still maintaining that service for those people. Umm, a lot of work has been done to provide alternative filing routes for our customers as well. So, we’ve got lots of paper processes. I mean we’ve still got some of them leftover, but we’ve provided alternative routes like upload facilities for forms that didn’t already have an electronic filing option.
MH: Hmm, okay.
EH: We’ve provided a service for directors to access their authentication codes where they were unable to go to their registered offices during lockdown which meant that they were able to file online. And not only did this keep our services going for our customers, but it allowed us to reduce the number of people we needed in the building as well which helped to keep them safe while they were at work. So, we’ve made a lot of internal changes as well to the way we pass work around between teams which has been successful in enabling us to have so many people working from home. And we introduced legislative easement for our customers struggling to meet statutory deadlines by allowing them more time to file with us and we’ve taken an empathetic view that COVID has caused delays in filing as well.
MH: Yeah, wow, it’s like a lot of adaptability in a very short space of time. Umm, can we talk a bit about our service to vulnerable customers. I know this is something that is vitally important to us.
EH: Yes, of course. This is something that has always been important to us. Not just through the pandemic but in recent times we have seen an increase in customers facing mental health challenges and that’s why we launched our vulnerable customer pledge back in February. So, around the same time we also launched the customer charter which sets out the way in which we will deliver a professional service to our customers and also, we’ve recently launched the unacceptable customer behaviour. But, going back to the vulnerable customer pledge, as you know, being a government organisation, our customers have statutory obligations that they’ve got to meet. So, like filing their accounts on time. But we do recognise that it can be really difficult to do if you’re in a vulnerable situation and by that I don’t mean just mental health. It can be a physical health problem or a financial situation or a life changing circumstance that somebody is going through. So, we want to help our customers experiencing these difficulties to meet their obligations and avoid any extra burdens on them. So, it’s really important to us that we provide a professional service to all of our customers and in our pledge we committed to working with our vulnerable customers to make sure they can access our information in a way that meets their needs and we train our colleagues so that they are able to identify customers who might be vulnerable and sign post them to any additional support that they might need. And we are committed to reviewing our policies as well to regularly make sure that they are constantly improving our business practices.
MH: Yeah, that is really impressive. Like, I can’t believe that I didn’t know about that already. It is quite admirable, and I don’t even know if any organisations who have got such a direct route to tackling that kind of thing. So, going back to talking about the goals. What are you doing to work towards the goal of brilliant services that give a great user experience and what’s planned for the future?
EH: Well, we have so much planned for the future. It is really quite exciting. We’re preparing for register reform and with lots of changes to our systems, we plan to make them more user friendly. So, moving away from WebCheck and CHD for example where customers are able to order documents from our Companies House Service, which is far more accessible, and it meets the needs of a wide range of our customers. We’re making changes to some of our customer contact route. So, we will have something called natural voice where if the customer is ringing from a mobile and says they want to incorporate a company, we will be able to send them a link to our incorporation service. You know that is a huge improvement from where we are now, where we have just got telephone and email routes and social media. We’ll have chat bots and web chat services. We’re working on improving the way customers can order records of companies that have been dissolved for up to 20 years. So, we are putting that on Companies House Service as well. And, we want to increase the number of digital transactions that we are receiving from our customers and we are getting closer now to validating incorporations in a more automatic way. And, just as importantly, we will be investing in our colleagues development by rolling out the operational delivery profession which is a fantastic way to recognise the profession that we are all a part of and we will be increasing the framework we have implemented this year to ensure that the quality of work being produced is at the highest it can be.
MH: Fab. That all sounds really really good. My last question to you is, what do you think you have learnt in a personal and professional capacity this year?
EH: Hmm. Okay, so, personally I think that I have learnt how resilient I am. Dealing with some really big changes and challenges and I’d also say that I’ve personally learnt how important having a healthy work-life balance is. Professionally, I have learnt how adaptable Companies House and the people I work with are. Umm, it feels like it would take quite a long time to get changes done in the past and we have really worked so quickly over the past few months. It’s just absolutely been amazing. And I suppose, personally within the organisation, I’d say that I’ve always felt valued working at Companies House, but this year has really highlighted how much wellbeing is important to the organisation. So, you know, it’s fantastic.
MH: Yeah. Same, I feel so grateful for that and I definitely don’t think that we’re alone in feeling that way. And, that brings me to the end of my questions. Thank you so much for joining me today Emma. It has been great to get an insight into your role and the teams around you. And, Thank you everybody for listening and if you haven’t already, then please have a look back on our last months podcast between myself and Angie Lewis talking about the goal of our culture enabling our brilliant people to flourish and drive high performance. And, again, please keep an eye out for next month’s podcast discussing our next goal. Thank you so much, Emma.
EH: Thank you.