Food distributor 3663 is encouraging its employees to excel in customer service as the economy struggles, says Tynan Barton
As the cost of food and fuel has risen steadily in recent years, food distribution company 3663 has faced challenges, with more to come. In the current economic climate, the foodservice firm’s main aim is to sustain and grow its business while ensuring an increased focus on customer service.
To meet this objective, 3663 – the company name derives from the numbers that spell ‘food’ on a telephone keypad – has been seeking a culture shift by looking at the way its staff behave, both internally with colleagues and externally with customers.
Managing director Alex Fisher created a vision for the organisation that focuses on helping customers and working in partnership with them, while keeping an eye on finances to make sure the business is being run at the right cost.
In line with this, 3663 has set out values for its employees, including encouraging them to be flexible, open to new ideas and passionate about getting it right for customers.
Deb Rankin, head of HR shared services, says: “Although it sounds like a people challenge, actually it is one of the biggest challenges for our business at the moment because it will enable us to drive our profit and our service in the right way.”
Since joining 3663’s HR team, Rankin has focused on bringing more of its benefits online. This includes introducing a flexible benefits scheme for some management staff in May 2010, and an online voluntary benefits scheme for all staff in November 2010.
Flexible benefits rolled out
“The flexible benefits [plan] came out of our need and desire to make sure we are looking after rewards for our management community, because that is where it is being rolled out, but we are looking to expand on that,” says Rankin. “That is really about making sure we are retaining and recognising that part of our community and giving them some of the lifestyle choices they might want.
“It was the first self-service piece of IT we have introduced. It was a challenge because, as you can imagine, we don’t have a lot of our workforce regularly sat using a PC or laptop.”
The online voluntary benefits portal, My Offers, which is provided by Personal Group, was born out of the need to reach a widely dispersed workforce with benefits that are relevant to everyone. “It is about that element of choice,” says Rankin. “It is based around what the employees wanted – a real reaction to feedback I was getting. For me, it was just really good to be able to say, ‘I have listened to you, I have built a business case to do what we think is right for you as a group of employees, and we have actually got it in and launched it’.”
An employee benefits survey in 2009 showed that staff wanted more discounts on high-street purchases, more choice and offers that suited their lifestyles. Subsequently, the 3663 board decided to help staff manage their everyday living costs.
The organisation already operated a range of corporate discounts in-house, for example at high-street shops or hotels. These deals were negotiated either through contacts made by Rankin or through reciprocal deals with business clients of 3663. After taking into account the results of the staff survey and what the board wanted, Rankin concluded 3663 needed a third-party supplier to source and maintain an online voluntary benefits portal. After submitting a proposal, the board gave her HR team eight weeks to organise the scheme.
“It was a real fast turnaround, but for the board it was important that we launched it in time for Christmas 2010,” she says. “I definitely think we met the objective to give people more choice, more value and make their pay go further. The most popular benefits are what our people were asking for – reloadable cards and vouchers. So far, employees have spent nearly £100,000 on that through the site.”
To communicate the scheme to a workforce that could be operating from home, at a desk, in a distribution centre or in a lorry cab, 3663 undertook a mass mailing to employees’ home addresses, sending out benefits booklets and written communication.
3663 also has employee representatives, known as communications champions, on every work site who keep up to speed with the organisation’s key strategy messages. It used this network to spread the word among staff about the voluntary benefits scheme.
3663’s benefits package is aimed at the entire employee lifecycle. Rankin says it is important to the organisation to look at how the benefits it offers, or wants to introduce, complement different stages in an employee’s life. “We want to offer a fair package that gives choice and supports not only our employees but their families as well, so we do have quite a focus on health and wellbeing,” she says. “It is a dual approach: it is about supporting our employees, but also making sure we are keeping our employees well and at work.”
One of the company’s most popular benefits is a health cash plan provided by Westfield Health, says Rankin. “Our employees use that for themselves and for their families. For instance, if they are ill at work, or if they have a back issue, then we know they can use the cash plan to get physiotherapy. It is about having a wide approach where we can make our benefits work for our employees and us.”
3663 spreads out the administration of benefits between HR, payroll and suppliers, with three people in the HR team, including Rankin, taking a core responsibility. “We also work really closely with our colleagues in payroll because they help to administer around some of the charges and supplier costs for benefits, in particular the flexible benefits system,” says Rankin.
The HR team also works closely with providers but it is important for the company not to fully outsource all its benefits administration, says Rankin. “I think it is good to keep an eye on, and hear, what our employees are saying about our benefits,” she says. “If you just set them up and let another party deal with them, we would never hear about them. We can gauge the temperature about what is going on and what employees think of our benefits.”
Generally, there is a positive feeling about the benefits package at 3663, but the firm recognises everyone is different and has different interests. “Some people like the discounts, some people like the health benefits,” she says. “So we quite frequently ask for feedback. Our employee engagement index is good for our sector, and that is something we will continue to build on and will continue to pick out the key pieces of feedback in relation to benefits.”
Regular communication needed
One of the things the benefits team learned from its last employee survey at the beginning of last year was that regular communications need to be maintained so awareness of benefits remains at the forefront of employees’ minds. “Because of the diverse demographic of our workforce, communication is always an issue for us,” says Rankin. “If you are one of our drivers sat out in a van, you might see the posters but you will not see the email, perhaps. So we are always thinking of multiple channels in which to get the messages out there.”
Focusing particularly on the flexible benefits scheme as 3663’s first self-service type of perk, Rankin recognises there is room for improvement. The company operates a job-grading system and flex is currently offered to some management staff. Its aim this year is open the scheme up to all management-grade employees.
“I still feel like we are in the early stages, and further engagement from our employees is still necessary,” she says. “We expanded it from year one to year two, but there is still room to expand more. What we specifically want to do, moving into the 2012 benefits year, is to make more of our employees eligible for it, so we are going to double the number of people who are accessing the system.”
While continuing to meet the challenge of rising costs, the year ahead will see 3663 invest time and resources in its benefits to ensure its offering meets the needs and desires of a widespread, varied workforce.
3663 at a glance
3663 is a wholesale food distributor that serves the hospitality industry. It also delivers to the NHS, care homes and prisons, and works with chefs and other catering professionals.
As well as delivering food, it also supplies cleaning products, drinks, napkins, condiments, or even a fully fitted kitchen for a hotel.
3663 was established in 1999 and grew out of Booker Food Service. It is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Bidvest Group, a South African company that operates on four continents.
Its headquarters are in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, and it has 27 sites across the UK, most of which are distribution centres, each with its own administration, telesales, warehouse and transport department.
The firm has 4,200 staff, of which 3,000 are male. The most common role is warehouse operative or LGV driver. Average length of service is seven years, but one foodservice employee celebrates 50 years’ service this year.
Career history: Deb Rankin
Before joining 3663 in 2004, Deb Rankin worked for Royal and Sun Alliance as a process and people leader in life and pensions. Her department dealt with anything from new business through to claims. Seeking to increase her experience of people management, Rankin joined 3663 as an HR administrator and feels she has learnt HR “from the bottom up”.
She became manager of 3663’s HR team, and then, after the organisation recognised she had a particular interest in reward and benefits, she was given the opportunity to move into a new role.
“3663 created a role so that we could put a lot more focus on our benefits side,” she says. “In conjunction with that, they sponsored me to get my professional HR qualifications, and my career has developed through that. I have spent about the last three years as reward and benefits manager, trying to really focus on and define some of the approaches to our benefits, revisit some of our relationships with suppliers, and tighten up some of the processes.”
In May 2011, Rankin moved into her current role as head of HR shared services. She now heads up the reward and benefits side of 3663’s HR strategy and the administration team, with which she explores how the organisation can develop and use the HR system to bring efficiencies into its administration.
• Trust-based defined contribution pension with life assurance for staff after six months’ service. Matched contributions of 3.5%, 5% or 6%.
• Private medical insurance for management staff. 3663 funds cover for eligible employees, spouses, and children for single parents. Staff can contribute for family care.
• Employer-funded health cash plan.
• Health screening for management.
• Hospital plan via voluntary benefits.
• Dental benefits for management roles through flexible benefits scheme.
• Statutory eyecare provision, as well as optical discounts via voluntary benefits scheme.
• Critical illness insurance for management roles through flex.
• Personal accident insurance.
• Employee assistance programme through health cash plan.
• Car scheme and cash for car option for management roles and essential car users.
• Flexible working.
• Career breaks.
• Childcare vouchers.
• 25 days plus bank holidays.
• Management roles can buy or sell up to five days a year through flex.
Subsidised canteen on some sites.
• Online voluntary benefits scheme.
• Discounts on own products.
• Season ticket loans.
• Incentive pay across many roles.
• Management incentive scheme.
Employee case study: Health cash plan pays off
Paul Geoghan, a telesales executive at 3663, has been with the company for almost six years. His job involves making and receiving calls concerning orders, and selling new product lines.
On top of this, Geoghan is communications champion at the depot where he works, which requires him to meet the board of directors to discuss any issues that staff have raised with him. As a community engagement officer, he undertakes fundraising in the local community, or links up with local schools and work experience candidates.
Geoghan says the most useful benefit at 3663 is the health cash plan, through which, after a car accident, he was able to claim money back for physiotherapy and consultant fees, and arrange a MRI scan at a local hospital.
Overall, Geoghan takes a positive view of the company’s benefits provision. He says: “There is a wide variety, and the employee discount scheme helps to stretch employees’ weekly income that little bit further.”
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