Digital innovation in industry is key in today’s world of smartphone technology, and the utilities sector is no different.
For their work in developing an innovative customer service app, mobile app development company Apadmi and United Utilities received the Customer Engagement Award at last year’s Utility Week Awards, held in London in December.
The first mobile solution for North West-based United Utilities allows its seven million customers to “manage their account on their terms”. The entrants say the mobile app is about giving customers “more control”.
Customers can pay bills, upload meter readings and view their payment history at the tap of a button regardless of location or time.
A huge growth in smartphone ownership created an opportunity for United Utilities to transform the ways customers communicate with the company, as well as revolutionise how staff work internally and how United Utilities is seen in the water industry.
United Utilities has an “active digital customer base” consisting of around 2.9 million people – around a third of its customer base.
The entrants add that while there is an immediate opportunity to give these customers more control and a better experience, the real ambition is to grow the number of customers who interact digitally by creating a new way for them to manage their accounts. Every customer can now use the app and its intuitive user interface to pay bills, view statements and check payment history.
The app enables users to both take and submit a meter reading, and it comes with built-in torch and camera control to help take a picture and enter the reading of a meter hidden away in a dark space.
Furthermore, the contact hour restrictions associated with contacting United Utilities have been removed completely. United Utilities says the technology has “streamlined the customer journey” and removed “time-consuming processes and forms”.
What were the KPIs?
United Utilities wanted to be the first to offer a native self-service app, which was innovative in its design and functionality.
The initial key performance indicator (KPI) for the project was based purely on new customer registrations within the app – to gain 30,000 in the app’s first year, a target than was reached after ten months.
The four KPIs of the project were to:
• Make life easier for customers by bringing self-service into the core offering.
• Increase engagement with customers by improving their experience.
• Drive a digital shift within the business by creating a new mobile channel.
• Launch the first native app within the water industry. Since launching 18 months ago the app has been downloaded 60,000 times,122,000 transactions have been made, £4.1 million-worth of bills have been paid using the platform and 25,000 meter readings have been processed.
Since the launch of the app United Utilities’ active digital customer base has risen from 17 per cent to 22 per cent. This represents an increase of around 146,000 customers.
There has also been a 29 per cent increase in digital channel sign-ups.
The app has been described as a “growing payment channel”, accounting for 7 per cent of all transactions. On top of this, the entrants say it has driven down internal costs. With fewer resources tied up with payment processing and minor queries, more time can be dedicated to customers with more complex issues, providing a “better overall customer experience”.
Since the launch of the app, more water companies are starting to offer something similar, thus helping to drive market change across the board.
Benefits for the business
The app has so far exceeded all expectations, proved a market need and helped to drive the digital shift the business wanted.
The app has:
• Driven down costs internally.
• Reduced manual payment processing and minor queries.
• Enabled the reallocation of time given to customers who have more complex issues.
• Provided a better overall customer experience.
Since launch, the app has added a whole new dimension to the United Utilities offering – and this is just the start.
United Utilities says it has developed a clear technology roadmap in accordance with business goals and has already identified a series of key features for growth that will help take the app past “business as usual”, to provide services not currently offered by other water providers.
On 7 September the company launched an innovative “report a leak” function, which allows anyone who downloads the app to report an issue quickly and efficiently – users can take a picture of a leak with their device, and using Google Maps integration, the exact location can be pinpointed by the United Utilities team.
This saves United Utilities time, adds context to the severity of the issue, deepens customer engagement with the organisation, and aids them in their efforts to reduce water wastage.
What the judges said…
The entry was an “exemplar of innovation and engagement”.
Marcus Hadfield, chief strategy officer, Apadmi
“We’re thrilled to have won the Customer Engagement category with United Utilities – it’s been a great, collaborative partnership since we kicked the project off.
“We’re already learning more about how customers are using the app, and we’ve got exciting plans to take it to the next level. The pressure is on for a repeat win!”
Louise Beardmore, Customer Services and People Director, United Utilities
“We’re thrilled with the uptake of our app so far, which has increased our digital customer base by 146,000. We hope this helps to further build those key engagements with our customers.”