Customers

I am the customer Jo Causon

“Bundling is the future – with the right partners”

Ten years ago many commentators were quick to herald what was described at the time as a “customer experience revolution”. They were referring to the advent of bundled services in the telecoms sector.

That same approach is now prevalent in utilities, with companies teaming up to offer packages that include water, electricity and any variety of data or communications packages. Some question whether a blend of this nature will work; their fears are based on whether it will be easy for organisations to find the right business partners, against which reputations can stand or fall. In other words, the choice of partner clearly has a direct impact on business performance, reputation and the overarching service delivery. There are also concerns about creating faceless corporations who fail to really understand the customer’s needs as they become too slow to respond proactively.  

But in my view, bundled services in the utilities sector is worth pursuing. Customer expectations have heightened, especially around speed, ease and convenience; and our research indicates that they really do want integrated services; as long as it works across the whole service chain. What is absolutely critical is the quality of customer experience design.

In fact in my mind we have only just begun on the path of bundled services which will connect many different sectors and services to create seamless customer experiences.

Customers

I am the customer: Jo Causon

Customers, Skills, Comment

“Automatisation will free up people for real service roles”

Numerous reports have been published recently suggesting that artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics could compel governments to legislate for quotas of human workers and disrupt traditionally accepted working practices. They warn that the idea of creating differentiation between organisations, based on customers’ service experience, could be eroded as robot production lines and intelligent computer systems undermine the need for human activities.

In my view, however, there is no denying that ­automatisation is a force for good where it removes activities that are purely transactional. Doing so will free up people to undertake real customer service roles and activities, creating more job satisfaction – and therefore, engaged employees – as people can be retrained for customer-facing roles that require a greater level of interaction.

With the world of work changing fast, utilities should focus on people development so that employees have the right skills, competencies, capabilities and training to be able to deliver in their roles.

The apprenticeship levy does encourage people development at one level, but good employers will be those exploring ways to upskill their people across the full range of today’s multi-­generational workforce. Automatisation and AI will not just affect new entrants to the labour market so employers should be deliberating how they create a workforce fit for purpose now and able to handle the future.

Customers

I am the customer: Jo Causon

Customers, Comment

“Disaffected staff could be turning customers away”

Research from The Institute of Customer Service reveals that just 25 per cent of UK employees feel actively engaged in their job. This has barely changed in over 20 years, and today’s customers are turning away from organisations where staff appear disengaged. The message for the boardroom is, therefore, as straightforward as it is stark: disaffected employees could be turning customers away.

Boardrooms should be making every effort to understand the link between employees and customers because employee engagement has become more important to customer satisfaction and business performance.

Customer expectations have heightened – particularly around speed, ease and convenience – meaning that their demands for personalised, authentic experiences place added pressure on customer-facing employees.

A good experience cannot be achieved through processes or the use of technology alone; it depends on motivated, committed employees who display empathy, act in the moment to solve problems and seek ways to make the customer feel valued.

Organisations must priortise employee engagement. If teams are not given the tools or environment to deliver a great customer experience, boards should not be surprised to see their customer numbers and bottom line affected.

ICS will be speaking at Utility Week’s Energy Customer conference in January. Details: events.utilityweek.co.uk/energy

Customers

I am the customer: Jo Causon

“UK utilities must monitor customer needs and wants”

Our European Customer Satisfaction Index (EUCSI) recently found that the UK utilities sector has one of the highest customer satisfaction rates in Europe. Although this is good news, utilities is the only sector in which the UK didn’t come out on top – falling into second place, behind Germany. So what is different about Germany’s approach to customer service when it comes to utilities?

The EUCSI data shows that German customers prefer to use email over other methods of communication and reports high satisfaction with customers’ overall experience – particularly in the utilities sector. Conversely, the UK consumer reports the highest satisfaction with services through an app or in person, and yet the UK frequency of use for these channels is below the European average. This demonstrates that a key part of successful customer service is allowing customers to interact with a business in a way that suits them.

The fact that a major UK energy provider was recently criticised for its management of customer call waiting times and complaint handling perhaps highlights the fact that investment in customer service training and processes is still needed.

To boost its customer service ranking, the UK utilities sector needs to closely monitor the needs and wants of its customers and develop the necessary infrastructure to interact with them. There has to be synergy between the mode of communication a company invests in and that which consumers prefer to use.

Jo Causon, chief executive, The Institute of Customer Service

Customers

I am the customer: Jo Causon

Customers

“Can utilities recognise ­excellence when it happens?”

There is a lot to be positive about within the utilities sector: the latest UK Customer Satisfaction Index (UKCSI) rates it as the most improved sector in the UK economy, gaining 1.9 points compared to last year.

Customer-facing staff are the day-to-day representatives of a business. Arguably they determine business reputation through their service and are key, very public touch points. As leaders we are responsible for making sure these critical assets of our business are equipped with the appropriate skills to deliver the best customer experience.

The UKCSI looks in detail at the areas where members of staff in the utilities sector are not achieving the highest standards. Understanding this is critical, but for me it is more important to think about broader challenges and potential solutions. Are we rewarding our people appropriately, can we recognise excellence when it happens and replicate it? More importantly, how can we build this into a sustainable model? Also, how do we maximise the roles of technology and artificial intelligence and balance these with the very critical and distinctive human interactions?

The results we see in the UKCSI are revealing, but I’m most interested in asking how the utilities sector can benefit from posing these tough questions, sharing excellence from within the industry and learning from other sectors. If we are serious about maintaining the loyalty of customers, we need to answer these questions together.

Jo Causon, chief executive, The Institute of Customer Service

Customers

I am the customer: Jo Causon

Customers, Skills, Comment

“The utility sector is the most improved of 13 analysed”

January marked the release of the UK Customer Satisfaction Index from The Institute of Customer Service. In examining the state of customer service in the utilities sector – and others – it certainly offers encouragement that organisations are moving in the right direction, as customers are more satisfied than they have been since 2014.

Some of the most positive news to emerge was that the utility sector is the most improved of 13 analysed, gaining 1.9 points on last year’s results. There was also the strong performance of newcomer Utility Warehouse, which came second behind Amazon in the overall standings.

However there are no reasons for complacency. The sector still, for example, needs to address issues surrounding the skills and attitude of its staff. Across the UK economy, customers revealed that staff attitude and behaviour is much more important than five years ago, with competence of staff being the most important factor in terms of customer satisfaction in 2015. Friendliness of staff and ease of doing business are also rising up the customer priorities list.

It is therefore important that utilities providers invest in emotional intelligence and training for customer-facing employees, especially when it comes to dealing with challenging situations. If this initiative is central to the boardroom agenda, businesses in the sector stand a much better chance of improving the service their customers receive and the loyalty, trust and recommendation they are shown in return.

Jo Causon, chief executive, The Institute of Customer Service

Customers

I am the customer: Jo Causon

Customers, Comment

“Customers expect a seamless experience”

In an environment in which customers are increasingly encouraged to manage their accounts and tariffs online, the way companies in the utilities sector offer support is under the microscope.

Asked about the ease with which they can find information online, customers scored the sector 7.5 out of 10 in the latest UK Customer Satisfaction Index – below the average for the UK as a whole. And when it came to handling complaints online, customers were quick to suggest that the sector is performing worse than others in the UK.

Social media provide a public platform – and the sort of easy access to organisations that the modern consumer craves – so they are fast becoming an essential component of customer service strategy. The key is being able to deliver a truly integrated communication platform, where customers have the choice of how and when they communicate with an organisation.

Social media are increasingly becoming the responsibility of the whole company, with customers expecting a seamless experience with each of the departments they come into contact with.

Organisations that use social media to converse with customers will have a competitive advantage over those that are slow to respond.

Jo Causon, chief executive, Institute of Customer Service

Jo Causon is speaking at the Utility Week Congress 2015 on 14 and 15 October.

Visit www.uw-congress.net

Customers

I am the customer: Jo Causon

“Is this the best way to deal with vulnerable customers?”

Utilities – and water companies in particular – face a difficult challenge to manage relationships with customers who have not paid their bills, but cannot be disconnected.

One response is for companies to write to customers as though they are a third party collection agency, to stimulate customers to contact them and make arrangements for payment. But is this the most appropriate and effective way of managing vulnerable or in some cases, challenging customers?

It has been argued that the practice is efficient because it drives up payment of outstanding bills. But at a time when the utilities sector as a whole is experiencing historically low levels of customer satisfaction and trust, and is under keen scrutiny from politicians, media and the public, perhaps the business case is less clear.

There are links between customer satisfaction, trust and likelihood to remain a customer. Anything that could undermine customer trust must be looked at closely. Many customers who pay their bills promptly may reasonably assume that companies already make provision for the cost of collecting payments in their charges.

Loss of trust and reputation with these customers should be weighed against the financial returns of measures to reduce non-payment of bills. Perhaps both companies and customers would benefit more from greater efforts to help customers better manage both their water use and finances.

Jo Causon, CEO, Institute of Customer Service
Customers

I am the customer: Jo Causon

“Customer service should be a strategic business initiative”

Following last week’s revelation that 1.7 million complaints were made to the six major energy providers in the first three months of 2014, I would like to emphasise the influence that customer satisfaction has on organisations’ success in a market that is opening up to increasing competition.

Research from the Institute of Customer Service consistently points to a correlation between high standards of customer service and the bottom line.

At a time of increasing competition and pressure for further regulatory action, those companies that focus on the whole customer experience should be best placed to succeed.

Customers are more aware than ever about the standard of service they should receive. Customer service should be treated as a strategic business initiative, giving those organisations that put the customer at the heart of their operation the opportunity to differentiate themselves and gain market share.

Organisations are being presented with a real opportunity to improve and gain differentiation: providing a good complaints handling and resolution procedure contributes to overall customer satisfaction and leads to higher rates of customer retention and recommendation.

New research from the institute into the utilities sector will supply further insight into the key enablers that will build future opportunities for organisations to improve their customer satisfaction and business performance.

Jo Causon, chief executive, Institute of Customer Service
Customers

I am the customer: Jo Causon

“Customers want a balance between price and service”

During 2013, the utilities sector became the subject of growing public and political scrutiny; there were many calls for energy providers to curb price increases and improve service.
New research from the Institute of Customer Service – the UK Customer Satisfaction Index January 2014 – shows that the utilities sector has the lowest scores of all the 13 sectors, scoring 69 out of 100 – the overall average is 77.1. The research also demonstrates the link between good customer service and trust and the importance of delivering consistent customer service across the whole value chain.
The research shows that organisations that deliver a good customer experience are easy to do business with, resolve customer problems promptly, deliver on promises made and train staff to ensure they are able to cope with a range of customer issues.
In the utilities sector, organisations achieve a wide range of scores for each of these aspects, with more than 18 points between the highest and lowest in each area. Customers in the utilities sector are undoubtedly sensitive to price, however, more than half of those surveyed said they are seeking a balance between price and service and are not prepared to sacrifice service levels in pursuit of the cheapest deal.
With increasing pressure from the regulator and the potential of growing competition, those organisations that put the customer at the heart of their operation will improve their reputation, increasing trust, loyalty and organisational performance.

Jo Causon, chief executive, Institute of Customer Service

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