Listening to, and engaging with, the customer is now a given, but there remains issues around the best ways of doing this. Strong, structured engagement is not only important for customers but also for internal business communications. A bold statement, but one that evoked a lot of discussion among attendees at the Energy Customer Conference and Water Customer Conference in January 2015, run by Utility Week.
Sopra Steria was headline sponsor at the two, one-day conferences which addressed how energy utilities can improve engagement with consumers and use award-winning best practice to drive their performance.
“Your customers are never going to love you. They will never love you because the product and service you provide doesn't have an emotional connection.” said Stuart Allan, Head of Transport and Utilities at Sopra Steria who spoke at both conferences about 'Creating a customer services organisation that is fit for the 21st century’.
In his talks, Stuart explained why he believes the utility industry has great synergy with the insurance sector when it comes to customer experience. “If we had a choice, none of us would want to spend our money on utility bills - gas, electricity and water. Whilst all essential services, they don’t have any aspirational value to us living in the developed world. A huge amount of infrastructure and capital investment has been made over the past decade assuring our utility services, so we tend to expect these services to ‘just work’ and always be there when we need them. This makes it difficult for utility companies to create a relationship with their customers, as most customers don’t want - or see - any value in having such a relationship."
In his talks, Stuart described the four typical journeys a customer will take with a utility company:
- To register or amend their details, or leave the provider. Currently for water companies, this can be a relatively rare event given the current lack of competition in the industry and choice for customers, who see their water bill more like an additional tax
- To query their bill. For gas and electricity companies, this is the most likely reason a customer will contact a utility company today, as the majority of the industry still runs on estimated bills. Smart meters, however, should dramatically change this, which in turn will drive down customer interaction
- To complain. According to the Institute of Customer Services, the utilities industry remains rooted to the bottom of the UKCSI index
- To report that something has gone wrong - for example, a loss of service. This is when the customer expectation will be high, given the inconvenience the service loss may be causing them
Stuart continued, “These customer journeys tend to be very similar with the insurance sector. A small level of customer contact occurs at the time of registration or exit. We may query the price at the time of renewal although more and more often, this is now done through price comparison web services. The insurance industry ranks higher for customer service than utility companies in the UKCSI so customer complaints tend to be fewer in number, but do still occur. And, when we have a problem - typically when an event has occurred where we need to make a claim - we expect that claim to be processed with ruthless efficiency and by staff that show huge empathy to our circumstances.
This last customer journey - processing a claim - is one where insurance companies have invested heavily to differentiate themselves. Expensive advertising will often focus on how they manage claims, recognising the distress customers may have at such times. Therefore, utility companies should invest in their people, processes and systems as well, to support loss of services which can be very stressful, particularly for vulnerable people.
Finally, insurance premiums, like utility bills, are ones we would all prefer not to pay but we know we need - so that we have insurance policies to insure our property, vehicles and possessions. The utility companies should not aspire to benchmark themselves against the organisations always cited for best in class customer service - for example John Lewis and Amazon, who provide a product or service that we ‘want’ rather than ‘need’ - but with the insurance sector with whom they have greater synergy.”
Stuart's key points for a great customer experience:
- Make it easy: make it easy for people to get in touch and engage
- Make it personal: give personal feedback to staff, listen to feedback from customers - especially when it’s a negative experience. Try to use the engagement as a way to turn the situation around
- Make it happen: often individual enthusiasts are ready for a change of culture before the business is. Get IT on-side and take time to really understand customer pain points. Invest in training, standardise processes and create a common language for engagement
To understand more about how you can drive a seamless customer experience, contact Stuart by email or by telephone on 07879 885248.