With companies fighting to avoid hefty penalties from the regulator, as well as preparing for the open market in 2017, it’s imperative that customer experience is top of the corporate agenda. While SIM scores offer a useful overview of customer service performance, limited data sampling and infrequent measurement add up to a lost opportunity to gain competitive advantage.

What do you want to achieve?

We know OFWAT regulation means water companies have to fine tune their customer service offering in order to pass the ‘SIM exam question’. But what if organisations took a step back and looked at the true value to the overall business of delivering exceptional service? Other sectors have been doing this for years and can now find direct correlations between service and profitability. Before starting to analyse customer experience, there are a number of questions to answer: What do we actually want to discover? Are we in a place to react and resolve issues? And how will this insight inform our strategic objectives?

Create a continuous feedback process

One of the challenges with the SIM approach is the relatively low sample size capturing only a snap shot moment in time. What this measurement won’t unlock is the continued success or failure of the service provision, or ongoing issues that keep impacting the customer. For companies wishing to stay ahead, a more consistent approach is required to collect real-time, actionable feedback at each part of the customer journey.

Gathering feedback at individual agent level can drive behavior and provide coaching insights, while thousands of surveys are accumulated on a monthly basis for the business to analyse and identify trends. We recommend collecting a minimum of 20 surveys per operative per month, which is a robust amount of data to continuously deliver external 360° feedback to the frontline.

The service culture shift

It’s not easy to get everyone on board, but for a company to truly become ‘best in breed’, a shift in culture is required. It’s vital to consider each part of the customer journey and how service is offered each time they come into contact with the company. Naturally, service is a core skill and mindset in the contact centre, but this culture of considering the customer first does not typically extend to other departments.

For example, most repair teams are measured on job effectiveness: how quickly the work was completed and whether it was fixed first time. These are sound measurements, but what’s missing is the emotive element of this part of the customer journey and the impact those repair teams can have on the customer experience (and therefore whether that customer will remain loyal). Training and targeting these frontline operatives on delivering a superior customer experience is a sure-fire tool for reducing customer churn.

Ben Bax, Customer Services Director for Kier, a major player in the Utilities Sector, understands the cultural challenges companies face.

“Some business are still making the mistake of seeing the contact centre as the customer service department,” says Ben. “In truth, for a water business, the service the customer is paying for is when they turn on their taps and when they flush the loo. The operational staff – those in vans – provide a huge part of the service, so you have to get your front line teams thinking and acting in a more customer-centric way. It’s not just about the asset anymore.”

You are only as strong as your weakest link

In addition to driving profits through increased loyalty, detailed analysis of customer contact can also highlight where you might be losing money unnecessarily. This can be done by centralising management of all channels (e.g. phone, web and repairs) and gathering customer feedback from each customer touchpoint in one place. Analysing this in conjunction with real-time productivity and employee metrics offers an unprecedented view of not only where the ball is being dropped, but also why. Previously unseen drains on resources can be plugged, saving time and money.

Ben Bax explains

“The companies that have managed to make a step change in SIM performance have recognised that it’s the whole organisation’s responsibility to deliver customer satisfaction. It’s about having joint objectives right across the organisation. Everyone’s primary objectives and priorities should be about service to the customer first and managing the asset second. Without careful planning, you may make a change in the process in one place which creates customer problems further down the line.”

Broaden the benchmarking horizon

Customers will soon be able to choose their water company and, as has been seen in other industries, the customer experience on offer will be a key factor for consumers deciding where to put their hard earned money. Customer expectation will increase as they compare the service to what they experience on the high street. For this reason, it’s imperative for water companies to broaden their horizons and start benchmarking their service against that of providers in other sectors (e.g. John Lewis, M&S and Vodafone). Not only will this help them understand their brand and service perception in the eyes of a consumer, but it will also present valuable opportunities to learn from other companies who have also had to develop their service proposition as a vital customer differentiator.

The good news is that even top performing businesses are only now starting to get it right, so the opportunity to gain significant competitive advantage is still there. But a challenging market and demanding customers mean that more and more water companies are waking up to the value of creating a customer-first culture. Act now to ensure your place as a top-flight provider.

Simon Thorpe
Director of Sales & Marketing