When Sharon O'Leary arrives at work in the morning, one the first things she sees is the list of ten commandments relating to her job. High on this list is "to have fun, fun, fun". Something she and her colleagues place as a priority.
Sharon is one of the new breed of call centre operators based at Royal and Sun Alliance's Enterprise Centre in Birmingham. Launched in September last year in the Midlands and West, Enterprise promises to be the big solution for small businesses.
For the first time, brokers can pick up the phone and arrange cover for small business customers in minutes, not days. Simply because the call is answered by experienced underwriters, such as Sharon, who can make immediate decisions.
"When developing Enterprise, we didn't want the battery farm approach to call centres, we wanted something more organic and free range", says Simon Cooter, RSA's small business manager.
With its sophisticated technology and high calibre staff, Enterprise was a multi-million investment for the UK's largest commercial insurer but it feels it is justified.
"The culture at Enterprise is very customer-focused," continues Cooter. "Brokers want to talk to people who understand the business and they take comfort from speaking to a professional who can find the right solutions for their clients."
The aim of Enterprise is to save brokers time and paperwork. It promises that once cover is agreed, policy documents are dispatched within 48 hours. In addition, arranging cover by phone means that there are no long -winded proposal forms to fill in.
RSA would be the first to admit that the 1996 merger of Royal Insurance and Sun Alliance had an impact on its service standards. But now that integration is complete, it is looking ahead. And Enterprise certainly seems like a step in the right direction.
The initiative was piloted in the Midlands in conjunction with 280 brokers before being launched in the region in September and Cooter insists it has surpassed all expectations. The real test, however, comes when it is launched across the whole country, which is expected to be early this year.
The concept of the Enterprise Centre arose two years ago when RSA researched what brokers wanted. Top of the list was hassle-free products with the right premiums, fast quotes and access to decision-makers.
Steve Paterson, who heads the centre, comments: "We needed a service that would differentiate us from our competitors. The Chancellor said that small businesses were the powerhouse of the economy and as they grow in importance, the insurance industry needs to support them.
"The small business market is estimated to be worth £3.3 billion so it is huge market. We are not the largest small business insurer but we aim to be the first choice for brokers and their clients, which means that we have to do an awful lot. Our plan is to have a ten per cent market share in the next five years."
Currently, the centre employs 35 underwriters . Two of the main challenges were to create a call centre culture that motivated and empowered staff and to dispel the poor service image associated with call centres.
Paterson adds: "To achieve this efficiently you need staff that look forward to coming into work. We feel we are achieving this as 97% of staff said they would recommend a friend to work at Enterprise."
The Enterprise Centre on the face of it, looks not unlike any other call centre, with paper-free desks occupied by a host of operators donning headsets. But closer inspection reveals subtle differences. For one, the operators are not following a pre-prepared script. The screen takes the underwriters through a set pattern of information to obtain from brokers before a quote can be given. But they are also trained to handle price negotiations and deal with any problems brokers might have. They can take anything from 20 to 50 calls a day.
"We have taken all the good features of a call centre but what we have is a business team," says Paterson.
A business team, though, that knows how to enjoy itself. With regular social events organised and a chance to win a bottle of plonk each month for building up the most incentive points, the enterprise centre is a friendly and relaxed working environment.
According to Sharon O'Leary, the relaxed atmosphere has a lot to do with the training the underwriters were given by MacKenzie Thorpe. Each member of staff attended a four-day course on handling the type of calls they would routinely receive so confidence is high.
Broker response to the initiative so far has been positive with the most praise going to the speed with which cover is obtained – the average time to produce a quote is about seven minutes.
The telephony channel is intended to sit alongside EDI to give brokers a choice. And, additional services are provided free of charge such as advice on legal issues, health and safety legislation and taxation. A stress counselling service is also available to help customers deal with problems at work.
RSA's confidence in its new initiative is confirmed by its open invitation to brokers to come in and see how the operation works.
"The success so far of the Enterprise Centre lies in our systems and team ethos," says Cooter. "It is a simple concept but it is one that we hope will provide brokers nationwide with a solution to all their small business insurance needs."