The Eagles have landed

Anyone with a child, or perhaps an elderly parent, regularly pestering them with questions about technology might sympathise with the results of a recent survey by Barclays, which found that more than one third of the UK population regularly ask members of their family to help with technological queries – even though more than two in five don’t feel qualified to help solve these problems.

But, perhaps more worryingly, the high street bank found thattech problems have even caused arguments in the households of 11 million Brits.

And Barclays found that confusion about technology even caused problems in the workplace. ‘We had already introduced our mobile banking app, and had brought in 10,000 iPads into our branches to support customers,’ explains Catherine Cuthbert, media relations manager at Barclays. ‘We had the technology in place and wanted to explain to customers how to use it. But we realised that our employees found the iPads difficult to use – they weren’t comfortable with the technology either. If we wanted to use technology to save customers’ time and make their lives easier, we had to support our staff first.’

The solution was to launch the Digital Eagles initiative to train staff. ‘The ambition was that Barclays’ branch staff would be the most digitally savvy in the UK,’ says Cuthbert. More than 300 staff applied for the role of a Digital Eagle, a voluntary position conducted in conjunction with their day jobs, who would share their digital expertise with colleagues.

The first 18 volunteers in May 2013, who were chosen for their communication skills, motivation and enthusiasm for the project, were each allocated a region, passing on their digital skills to colleagues working within that network, and creating at least one Digital Eagle in each bank branch. The domino effect was to create 3,500 Digital Eagles within four months. ‘Our employees have been really eager to take part so far,’ says Cuthbert.

An internal ‘Digital Driving Licence’ was also introduced. Developed by the Eagles, the online course includes a broad range of topics, from a beginner’s guide to the Internet and software and operating systems, to online safety and fraud. Staff can pick their own modules, according to the areas in which they wish to specialise, and are accredited with a City & Guilds qualification on completion. To date, more than 11,000 employees have signed up to start studying for the licence. Digital Eagles do not have to take the licence before taking on their voluntary role, although it is encouraged.

The Digital Eagles also received training on how to deliver advice on using technology to customers, which was crucial for the second stage of the campaign. Last August, Barclays opened the Digital Eagles service up to customers, who are now able to go in to any branch and receive free technology advice. Although the Eagles are on hand to advise on banking-related technology, such as the Barclays mobile app, they will also teach a range of digital skills such as staying in touch with family and friends, watching television and shopping online.

The customer-facing campaign kicked off with a partnership between Barclays and Age UK. The bank teamed up with the leading age charity to conduct research which found that more than 5.1 million people over 65 had never been online. It was calculated that, if all of these people were given the skills to use the Internet, a collective saving of £3.78 billion a year could be made through activities such as Internet shopping, visiting price comparison sites and finding online deals.

‘We started discussions with Age UK as we wanted to represent our older customers, and not leave anyone out,’ explains Cuthbert. ‘We felt it was important to deliver digital skills to the older generation.’

The bank launched ‘taster sessions’ targeted at older customers in its branches, and recruited long-standing customer and England’s 1966 World Cup goalkeeper Gordon Banks, 76, a self-confessed technophobe, as the face of the campaign.

‘[Gordon] Banks was given his own Digital Eagle, [who we called] ‘iPat’,’ explains Cuthbert. ‘iPat was an older member of staff who had upskilled herself in order to understand the technology she needed for her job. As she was of the same age group as Banks, she could understand his struggle. She taught him how to really get to grips with the Internet.’

‘For someone like me who didn’t grow up with a telly let alone the Internet, it can seem a pretty daunting place,’ admitted Banks at the time. ‘I see my grandchildren on all these gadgets and used to just stare in amazement but I now know that you’re never too old to learn – it really will make a difference to my daily life!’

After targeting the digital skills of the older generation, Barclays is broadening the remit of its Digital Eagles. ‘The partnership with Age UK meant that we were targeting a specific audience,’ explains Cuthbert. ‘But there’s definitely a need to educate across all age groups. The Digital Eagles in our branches talk directly to the customers, and they tell us that people of all age groups lack digital confidence or ability, even if they possess the technology.’

Indeed, three in ten people admitted that they need help using their electronic devices and gadgets. There is now at least one Digital Eagle in every Barclays’ branch in the UK, who can offer advice and support with any technological query. The service is free and open to all.

‘The Digital Eagles are there to deal with queries on an individual basis, but they also give more in-depth advice in on-going sessions in our branches,’ explains Cuthbert. ‘It’s a localised activity. We run ‘Tea & Teach’ sessions, hands-on group sessions which are often run in conjunction with local community groups. It’s very much ‘open doors’.’

These pop-in sessions give the opportunity for customers to learn more about technology and have their queries answered in an informal setting. The target is to deliver 500 Tea & Teach session across the UK; 171 have been delivered to date. According to Cuthbert, customers come in with a range of problems. ‘There’s no one commonly asked question,’ she explains. ‘What we do hear most often though is comments from customers such as I didn’t know I could do that or I didn’t realise it was that easy. There’s often a light bulb moment involved.’

One example of a customer who has been helped by the Digital Eagles is Rex Redstone, an 85-year-old from Peterborough, who wanted advice on how to share photos online with family and friends. The Eagles introduced him to Instagram, which Redstone used to upload images of his life and his local town from as far back as the 1920s. Dubbed ‘Instagram-Pa’, Redstone is the oldest known UK user of the photo sharing social platform, where he has more than 5,000 followers.

Sam is another example. He wanted to contact his nephew who he hadn’t seen for three years. His journey, from approaching the Digital Eagles, through learning how to use a computer and the Internet, to contacting his nephew by Skype, was filmed for a series of videos for Barclays’ website and YouTube channel entitled Your Bank.Turning Silver Surfers into Savers. Footage from the videos of Sam’s story has been reworked into a television advertising campaign showcasing Barclays’ Digital Eagles service.

‘What I’ve really liked about this project is that it’s so customer-focused. Every customer has a story behind them,’ says Cuthbert. ‘There’s a constant stream of customers signing up for the Tea & Teach sessions, which we’ll continue to offer because clearly customers have a need for them.

‘We want to raise awareness and show that as a bank we’ve got something else to offer. The reaction from customers and employees has been really positive so far, and we’ve smashed our targets for national and regional PR coverage. Our overall ambition to be the most digitally savvy workforce is a big aim, but it’s something we’re continuing to strive for.’