Sharing information plays an important role in the positioning of the customer contact center within the organization and of APG towards its customers. APG is the largest pension provider in the Netherlands.

Funding ratios, investment returns, and potential pension discounts: we hear these terms almost daily on the news. Pension provider APG, the largest in the Netherlands, works hard on today’s issues, but is also expressly concerned with the future. Sharing information plays an important role in the positioning of the customer contact center within the organization and of APG towards its customers.

Rob Krijgsman
Rob Krijgsman

APG is preparing for a different positioning – for if a pension participant is free to decide who will be responsible for their pension management, there’s a lot at stake for the pension provider. Rob Krijgsman, customer contact manager at APG, says, “We aim to personalize pension services. We have to make a difference – not only for participants, but also for the pension funds we work with.”

The strategy required to make that difference is clear. APG aims to provide added value at the lowest possible cost. Therefore, the two customer contact centers (in Heerlen and Amsterdam) focus on valuable customer contact regarding retirement date, illness, death, occupational disability, and other situations. “At these moments, we play an important role – in explaining the pension scheme in an understandable way, for example. That’s different than a participant asking a simple question about the date on which a pension benefit is paid,” says Krijgsman.

 

Nearly all medium-sized and large pension funds have outsourced their operational processes. The unbundling of fund management and the management of capital (in jargon: ‘relinquishment of self’) were initiated in 2004, the arguments being professionalization and the scaling of implementation, among other things. Just before the turn of the century, there were nearly 1,000 funds. Now, there are a little over 200 left. APG is the largest provider in our country and originated from ABP (civil servants) and BPF Bouw (pension fund for the construction industry). Other providers include MN and PGGM. The pension sector is extensive. At the beginning of 2019, the total assets under management were approximately 1,400 billion euros. The largest funds, including ABP (National Civil Pension Fund) and PFZW (Dutch pension fund for the care and welfare sector), account for nearly half of this amount.

Experimenting

Christian van Schijndel
Christian van Schijndel

“In terms of technology, we have identified several value streams at APG,” Christian van Schijndel explains. As a CRM product owner, he’s involved in translating innovation into technology at the customer contact center. “One of them is our ‘growth factory,’ where we innovate in the area of pensions. An example includes a pension for self-employed people. Other streams focus on experimenting within processes. Here, examples include testing ideas from the growth factory and implementing proven concepts such as co-browsing in the customer contact center. Finally, some streams are specifically concerned with software lifecycle management and eliminating IT legacy.”

“Sometimes, an experiment leads to a shutdown of old systems,” says Krijgsman. “In other cases, it results in the decision to not do something – such as using WhatsApp for customer contact, as it turned out to be too difficult to store conversations, which basically aren’t closed in WhatsApp, in our then CRM system. Furthermore, we’ve eliminated quite a few old issues. We had two contact center platforms from our merger partners ABP and BPF Bouw, which APG originated from. After initially picking Avaya, we continued to look for a solution which allowed APG more room to influence the development of the platform. Therefore, we consciously opted for a slightly smaller party [Enghouse, through Dutch company EvolveIP], considering a range of preconditions regarding reliability and continuity, of course.”

Performance boards: part of providing information to stakeholders

Aiming for lower costs, more added value, and customer satisfaction means you should commit to a smart organization that is capable of continuous improvement and where employees are properly facilitated. But providing information to stakeholders – to properly show the added value of good customer contact – plays an important role at APG, too. These things come together in the use of process information at the customer contact center. In the past ten years or so, APG has worked with Texas Digital’s performance boards, which hang across the customer contact center. These offer real-time information on customer satisfaction and the NPS, among other things. Providing this kind of information contributes to employees’ commitment, explains Krijgsman. “The numbers lead to questions and discussions: what’s going on, what caused them to be this way? The reflective capacity of the customer contact center is also greater because the department’s culture has changed – as a result of a different employee profile, among other things. In 2015, the idea that a customer depended on APG still prevailed – so why would you measure customer satisfaction? Now, we aim for the highest possible first-time fix rather than create waiting times for second-line experts.”

With the other profile (at least higher professional education, and with as many different educational backgrounds as possible), the customer contact center has also evolved into the organization’s breeding ground for talent: 14 percent of customer contact center employees go on to hold different positions within APG. “These are people who have talked to customers for a year and a half. That’s what they bring into the organization,” Krijgsman says rather proudly.

Quickly recording process information

A different profile also means a different kind of involvement as well as a critical end user. “To us, it goes without saying that we involve employees in every major change, too. As end users, they are in charge of the ‘what,’ while ICT is in charge of the ‘how,’” Van Schijndel explains. “Because of the way in which colors are used, it barely takes any time or energy to understand the information we provide through performance boards. Another important result is that management and marketing people visit us much more often – when the media report on pensions, for example. How do participants react to that? In the past, it took much more time to gather and share management information. This process has now been automated in a continuous, near real-time manner. As a result, the customer contact center is considered to be a fast, reliable source of information on what’s going on among participants. This is in line with the strategy in which the customer comes first.”

“We organize day starts during which the customer contact center’s self-organizing teams have the lead,” says Krijgsman. “Standing by the screens, we discuss, among other things, what happened yesterday – the performance boards ensure no one has missed that – and what should be improved today.”

The customer contact center: an information hub

The role of the customer contact center is becoming increasingly important to APG. When designing the new building, for example, the location of the customer contact center has been carefully considered to make sure the customer process is literally visible. The next step would be to share selected CRM information with stakeholders. If it’s up to Van Schijndel and Krijgsman, the performance boards within the customer contact center will be followed by a dashboard which can be accessed by both pension funds and all APG employees through any device. This dashboard would, for example, display the NPS per participant as well as trends and customers’ substantive feedback.

According to Krijgsman, daring to be vulnerable and providing information on processes and results are preconditions for heading into the future. “APG takes into account that the need for management information among pension funds will only increase in the coming period. You have to offer each other insight – even on occasions when things aren’t going that well.”

About APG – APG Group is a financial services provider offering management consulting, asset management, pension administration, pension communications, and employer services. APG performs these activities on behalf of (pension) funds and employers in the following sectors: education, government, construction, cleaning and window cleaners, housing corporations, power companies and public utilities, sheltered employment, medical specialists, and architectural firms. APG manages approximately 529 billion euros of pension assets for the (pension) funds in these sectors (August 2019). Working for roughly 21,000 employers, APG provides pensions to one in five families in the Netherlands (more than 4.5 million participants).

Christian van Schijndel started his career as an agent at APG. Now, he’s a CRM product owner, focusing on the implementation and change of CRM (MS Dynamics) for participants. He was previously responsible for the online contact center’s application landscape, heading a team of 8 WFM employees.

Rob Krijgsman is responsible for the customer contact center (in Heerlen and Amsterdam), WFM, and reporting. In October 2018, Rob Krijgsman was named CCMA Manager of the Year 2018, mainly because of ‘the daily deployment of innovative solutions in the customer contact area.’ According to the jury, Krijgsman has provided ‘enviable’ KPIs regarding customers and employees and ‘continuously seeks to deepen customer contact through experiments and technology.’

Author & Images: Erik Bouwer. Published: December 9, 2019 – Klantcontact.nl