Q&A Kelly MacFarlane, chief customer officer, Thames Water
Kelly MacFarlane was appointed chief customer officer at Thames Water at the beginning of January, coming from BT Openreach. She replaced Andrew Reaney, who left the company to return to Centrica.
Here, MacFarlane speaks to Utility Week about her new job.
Q: What attracted you to the role?#
A: “There have been a number of high-profile moves from telecoms to water. The parallels are clear when it comes to investing in and maintaining ageing infrastructure in a regulated environment, striving to innovate, and keeping up with ever-growing customer and stakeholder expectations.
“In terms of Thames, for me it is really important to work with a product and proposition that you believe in. I absolutely believed in that with Openreach, and obviously there’s a step further in that with water in that you can’t get a product that’s more critical to people’s lives. That’s something that I personally find inspirational.
“The opportunity to work for the biggest of water and waste companies, with such a rich history, was a great opportunity that I didn’t want to turn down.”
Q: What exactly will your role involve?
A: “My role involves working across Thames, so it’s a big scope, but actually I’d say it’s pretty straightforward. It’s about being the voice of the customer.
“It’s about making sure that we have a clear customer service plan that everyone across Thames understands their role in delivering. So I have to look across the divisions and priorities and challenge how our performance and plans impact customer outcomes.
“Being able to make that link for the business between the service, people and financial outcomes and how they all go hand in hand, and shaping that agenda so that the customer is at the heart of it, is a key part of my role.”
Q: How will your role be affected by Thames Water’s decision to exit the non-household market?
A: “My role focuses on all customers, it’s not just about household and non-household customers. As an example, we’ve also got our developer services function and part of my role is recognising that we have difference customer segments. Thames will still be a wholesaler, and that’s just a different segment of customer that needs equal focus.”
Q: What’s it like to work with such a new senior team?
A: “It’s energising because, being relatively new, [chief executive] Steve Robertson has got a clear vision and set of priorities for the business that he is communicating very clearly. That’s really helpful because it enables me to translate that into a clear set of priorities that are focused on the customer. My sense is that there’s a renewed sense of energy and pace in the company.”
Q: What’s your biggest ambition for the company?
A: “Making sure that when people think of Thames Water, they absolutely think great customer service.
“It’s probably an overused example, but in the same way as when you go to John Lewis, you know exactly what you’re going to get – good products and service, value for money and confidence that you know what happens if it’s wrong for whatever reason. My biggest ambition would be that people have the same sentiment about Thames. I want customers to have confidence in the great product and service experience they can reliably expect from Thames.
“That’s not to say things won’t go wrong but, when they do, we handle them brilliantly.”
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