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John Hancock Financial Services - Front-Line Customer Service Team of the Year


Gold Stevie Award Winner 2019, Click to Enter The 2020 Stevie® Awards for Sales & Customer Service

Company: John Hancock Financial Services, Boston, MA
Company Description: John Hancock's core retail products in the U.S. focus on providing financial solutions at every stage of our clients' lives. Our product suite includes life insurance, mutual funds, 401(k) plans, long-term care insurance, and annuities. We distribute our products primarily through licensed financial advisors, and through the John Hancock Financial Network.
Nomination Category: Customer Service & Call Center Awards Team Categories
Nomination Sub Category: Front-Line Customer Service Team of the Year - Financial Services Industries

Nomination Title: Keeping Participants First – in a post-DOL world

Tell the story about what this nominated team achieved since the beginning of July 2017 (up to 650 words). Focus on specific accomplishments, and relate these accomplishments to past performance or industry norms. Be sure to mention obstacles overcome, innovations or discoveries made, and outcomes: REDACTED FOR PUBLICATION

Despite preparations to meet new regulations and pressures to streamline workflows and reduce expenses, John Hancock’s Personal Financial Services team (PFS) was still able to achieve record sales and leading customer experience scores. Here’s our story.

At John Hancock, PFS provides phone-based guidance and advice to retirement plan participants who are transitioning to and from their employers.

Like most other financial services companies, PFS was affected by the Department of Labor’s Fiduciary Rule, which was originally scheduled to be phased in between April 2017 and January 2019. The regulation raised the bar for all retirement advisors and institutions through the creation of a new “best-interest” standard when working with participants and investors. To comply, PFS underwent a significant and disruptive two-year effort to change its business model, its products and its processes – many of which would challenge efficiency and results.

Meanwhile, John Hancock was also going through its own sweeping changes, with corporate-wide initiatives focusing on digitization, boosting overall efficiencies and reining in costs. This added a layer of complexity to the rapidly approaching government-imposed deadline, requiring PFS to double-down on its efforts so that it would not skip a beat despite the disruption.

To meet the approaching regulatory deadline, our action steps included:

  • Re-training and re-licensing representatives so that they could service participants under the new best-interest standard
  • Updating supervisory standards, re-educating internal business partners and intermediaries, and resetting client expectations
  • Adjusting our rollover product offering and replacing a delivery model that had been in place for a decade
  • Changing compensation plans to reflect the new paradigm
  • Replacing our CX measurement platform to better assess the voice of the customer

Frustratingly, just before the new DOL Rule was set to go into effect; it was officially “killed” by the new administration in Washington.

While many in the financial services industry backpedaled to the old way of doing things, PFS took a deferent approach. We decided to stay with the new best interest standard because it was the right thing for customers – even though sometimes it wasn’t the best thing for our bottom line. For example, our representatives let participants know when it does not make sense to consolidate their money with us… even though we are not required to do so.

Regulatory changes aside, we still had to meet corporate goals around reducing expenses and hitting sales targets. Expense reduction meant being committed to a staffing model that was as lean as possible. Where communications were involved, we increased use of e-channels to minimize print costs. And our Advanced Analytics team helped us utilize available data to target customers more effectively.

Special initiatives also helped us streamline our operational practices, allowing us to realize lower costs in acquiring customers. We leveraged an external consultant to assist in implementing a high-performance program that formalized best practices for hiring and defined drivers of performance excellence. Another consultant helped us focus on our workflows to identify quick wins through the automation of low-value work.

The good news is that our results have shown that adopting the new best interest approach, while at the same time trimming expenses, hasn’t necessarily meant a downward trajectory for our business. In fact, PFS sales are up this year over last (which was a record year). This, despite reducing expenses and staffOf note, those staff reductions were met by not backfilling vacant positions rather than cutting headcount. As a result, morale and engagement have remained very high.

Of equal importance, however, was that PFS representatives have been able to maintain our top quadrant Net Promotor Score. As one customer noted, “I can’t say enough about how my representative helped me during a difficult time.He explained everything to me in an understandable way and was considerate and courteous.”