With insight into Uber’s approach to processing 400 million service tickets per year, utilities experts examined the role of data and digitalisation in enabling more agile and empathetic customer interactions.

The scale of the customer challenge facing Uber is enormous with the San Francisco-based ride hailing service currently spanning more than 10,000 cities, catering for a global customer base of around 93 million people, and shifting through more than six billion journeys per year.

Uber’s 10,000 support representatives – spread across 70 countries – therefore have to be consistent and up to speed on best practice to tackle an annual jam of some 400 million manual customer tickets without inadvertently pulling the brake on positive user sentiment.

The operation’s growth, scale and autonomy create unavoidable variation and data complexity and though utility firms may not deal with the same traffic as Uber, delivering high levels of sustained customer satisfaction, at scale, is similarly crucial for energy and water companies.

Firms are also trying to overcome social and legacy shaped speed bumps while maintaining customer goodwill, trying to survive in increasingly price sensitive market and withstand both regulatory and environmental pressures. A burning platform.

With this in mind, experts from the industry and the mobility-as-a-service superbrand joined a Celonis and Utility Week hosted webinar to dissect Uber’s data-driven transformation of customer operations on a global scale, how it stacks up against the work of major energy and water firms and what lessons can be driven across industry boundaries.

Speakers from Eon Next, United Utilities, Ombudsman Services, Uber and webinar sponsor Celonis unraveled how data can not only steer a more efficient customer service, but a more empathetic one in which agents feel empowered by insights.

Change management in a ‘complex’ situation

Nick Mitchell, VP & country manager UK&I, Celonis, explained that he is increasingly seeing clients using data to steer agents towards the “right” decisions in complex scenarios.

“You think of an Uber ride as being quite a straightforward thing, but when what’s going on in that business is described and you look at the actual variances of every single process you’ll find there are hundreds, sometimes thousands, of variants,” he explained.

“But being able to see that data in a way that allows you to plan and manage a business efficiently and drive on the right KPIs, such as customer satisfaction, alongside efficiency is really important, as is having the comfort that you are doing the right thing with all of that data because the solutions are telling you you’re doing so. The technology is there to do that now.”

Mitchell added that successful change management was the fulcrum of implementing the effective and empathetic, yet data-led, approach Uber has rolled out on a vast scale.

“Have you got the right people in the right areas of the business that are driven towards a common goal, and how might you need to manage your business to drive towards those right behaviors and implement the right change that gets the results you’re ultimately out there for?” he asked. “We get asked mostly about change management ‘help us with the information that we’re getting, to help present it to others so they know that it’s the right thing to do’.

“That takes a slightly different mindset, it’s not just about decent spreadsheets,” he continued, “it’s about being able to look at the data in a certain way to then provide the insight that will deliver benefit. That takes business acumen and allows you to build a plan.”

Driving change and ‘harmony’ at Uber

According to Sumit Khanna, Uber’s head of global process excellence, removing data silos and replacing previous systems that didn’t offer scalability or definitive insights has been essential.

Continuously “refreshing” data and providing readily available analytics – presenting comparable overviews of processes and dashboards relating to specific KPIs – have been central to providing valuable, consistent and actionable data.

“Let’s say a particular process is done in the US or Canada and another is done in Europe – I can run a side-by-side comparison,” Khanna says. “A granular approach to compare steps and satisfaction.”

This, he continued, has allowed Uber to ensure compliance with processes, determine which sites are giving most efficient results, and steer staff training at other sites in order to get up to speed.

“Anything which is non regulatory-based we used to ask ‘why are you doing it differently?’ he added, explaining that Uber has increased standardisation across teams, countries and continents.

Ultimately, Khanna broke down Uber’s data-led approach to harmonising customer service into three key areas:

  • Operational transparency – comparing existing processes, analysing key metrics and identifying differences that must be resolved as part of integration.
  • Harmonisation of execution – using data to identify operational best practice, identify process stakeholders that need to be influenced in order to instigate change as well as weak points and areas for improvement.
  • Continuous improvement – continuously monitor and analyse operational processes and quickly identify and resolve process related issues.

Importance of agility and allowing for variation

However, in tandem with a more standardised approach comes the occasional need to accommodate agent adaptability, creativity and autonomy in providing what Khanna describes as “non standard resolutions”

“We are intentionally now introducing intended variations by giving our agents autonomy,” he explained. “You can take an exception and give a non-standard resolution” – a degree of freedom he says has been accompanied by an uptick in customer satisfaction levels.

This data-led approach to guide more autonomous agent decision-making is, according to Ed Dodman, director of regulatory affairs at the Ombudsman Services, particularly relevant to the utilities sector and firms’ navigation of an “unbelievable number of possible journeys”.

Empowering empathetic decision-making

With this in mind, Stefan Guy, head of commercial strategy at Eon Next, suggested that providing data is crucial to ensure that agents have better visibility on how to deliver the empathetic, human, element to customer service and that a balance must be struck between empowering advisors to solve problems and driving consistency.

He explained that at Eon, agents are encouraged to veer more towards an “entrepreneurial” approach – owning customer cohorts as their individual business and taking responsibility for them – rather than acting purely on efficiency-led drivers.

“Smoothing everything out into a standard process then having desirable variation,” he summarised.

This involves establishing what a good outcome looks like and allowing the agent to find the route towards it amid a multitude of variables and influences within utilities such as affordability, vulnerability and the environment.

Both Guy, and Jennifer Felton, head of communications and digital services at United Utilities, identified data as the lynchpin of this approach – establishing a context for agents and guiding them towards empathetic choices and the next best action.

Catch up on demand here

See this content brought to life at Utility Week Live, 17-18 May 2022 NEC Birmingham

Delivering best in class customer services is one of the frontline challenges at the heart of Utility Week Live 2022’s live content programme.

View the challenges and be alerted for tickets to the industry’s most eagerly awaited reunion at utilityweeklive.co.uk.

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