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The Institute of Customer Service welcomes the opportunity to respond to the Consumer Council for Water’s draft forward work programme. In particular, The Institute welcomes the focus that the draft places on customer service.Performance of the utilities sector.

Data from The Institute’s UK Customer Satisfaction Index (UKCSI) shows that, despite some improvements, the utilities sector as a whole is behind the UK average on customer service metrics.

The UKCSI provides a unique insight into the quality of customer service in the UK. It is based on a six-monthly online survey of customers which is demographically representative, and the latest dataset is based on responses provided from over 10,000 customers. The UKCSI shows that the utilities sector as a whole has a satisfaction score of 75.1 out of 100.

This has improved by 1.8 points in twelve months, which is to be welcomed, but remains 3.1 points below the UK average.76.8% of customer say everything was right the first time when they most recently contacted a utilities provider. This is 3.9% below the UK average. As the Council acknowledges, it is important for companies to get things right the first time.

Our research shows that customer satisfaction rises from 54% to 81% when a customer receives a ‘right first time’ experience, and that satisfaction is linked to trust. This demonstrates the benefits that companies can derive from providing a consistently good level of service. One way providers could improve and maintain high standards of customer service is through acquiring the ServiceMark accreditation. ServiceMark is awarded based on customer satisfaction feedback and an assessment of employee engagement with an organisation’s customer service strategy. It helps companies understand how effective their customer service strategy is, and identifies areas for improvement. It is worth noting Ofwat have agreed that companies achieving this accreditation should be recognised for attaining nationally recognised standards that others should follow.

Undergoing ServiceMark accreditation is an opportunity for organisations, of all sizes and sectors, to demonstrate how good their customer service really is and to demonstrate an ongoing commitment to service, and find ways of developing further. Linking decision-making to customer preferences. The Council’s plans to challenge providers to take decisions based on sound evidence of customers’ priorities is, in The Institute’s view, the correct approach. We also welcome the Council’s call for Ofwat to link any financial incentive rewards directly to tangible benefits for customers.

Providing data to allow customers to compare providers, The Institute also strongly endorses the Council’s proposals to use comparative data in Customer Challenge Groups, to allow customers to consider their water company’s performance relative to others. The UKCSI and The Institute’s Business Benchmarking survey provides a powerful tool to inform organisations about the impact of their customer service strategy, enabling them to focus on the areas that deliver the best return on investment by highlighting strengths, weaknesses and areas for improvement from the customers’ perspective.

Providing comparative data will help customers establish expectations for the level of service they should receive from a provider, and improve customers’ levels of trust where they can see standards are being met.We suggest that the Council should specify, and consult, on what types of data it plans to ask providers for. The metrics that companies provide should be based on the issues that matter most to customers, and we are pleased to see the Council acknowledge this.The UKCSI, for example, covers staff professionalism; quality and efficiency; ease of doing business; timeliness; problem solving; complaint handling; and attitudes towards trust and reputation. In all, The Institute uses over 30 metrics of customer experience and these are also replicated in Business Benchmarking surveys which consider the views of organisation-specific customers. These metrics reflect the priorities customers have identified as the most important attributes of customer experience.

The Institute of Customer Service

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