Severn Trent Water: using professional qualifications and training to increase customer focus

“It’s easy for us to say that we want to be the best in the industry...but our partnership with the Institute of Customer Service helps us to demonstrate to our customers and the industry regulators, that we’re making good progress. We’re investing our time, energy and money in building a customer-centric workforce and these efforts are being rewarded through the customer feedback we receive.”

Originally formed in 1974 as one of the 10 regional, state-owned water companies, Severn Trent passed into private ownership in 1989. Today, Severn Trent Water serves a population of 7.7 million people supplying around 1.8 billion litres of drinking water every day and employing a customer relations team of over 800 employees.

“We want to be the best water and waste water company in the UK,” says Severn Trent’s Customer Relations Manager Lucy O’Grady “and we also want our customer service agents to be the best in the industry.”

Severn Trent has been working with the Institute of Customer Service for two years and all new agents, who enter any part of their customer relations team, go through the Institute’s FirstImpressions training.

FirstImpressions count 

The Institute of Customer Service’s FirstImpressions training introduces frontline staff to the key concepts of customer service, helping them to become customer service professionals. Severn Trent has already put around 400 people through FirstImpressions training, as part of its induction programme.

Like many organisations that choose to use the Institute’s training courses, Severn Trent has confidence in the customer service agents’ ability, but wants to support and develop them to improve their skills and boost their confidence.

“We employ positive, customer-centric people to work in our team and the FirstImpressions training they receive when they join us helps to prepare and inspire them. It also ensures that they have the right mindset to deliver excellent customer service”, says Lucy. 

Jamie Nicholls is one of many staff who has benefited from FirstImpressions training, as he explains: “FirstImpressions helped me to clarify and focus on what Severn Trent Water and the credit management team were aiming to achieve in terms of customer experience. I was able to conduct my own research into the communication channels we use, enabling me to assess which methods deliver the best results in different scenarios.”

Jamie now works as a Resolution Manager in Severn Trent’s credit management team. “I received Institute of Customer Service training at the start of my career and it helped me to progress within the organisation”, he adds. “I now feel I play an important role in helping to deliver a strong customer experience focus to agents in my team.”

Severn Trent training receives Institute approval

The Institute of Customer Services recently assessed and approved Severn Trent’s training so that FirstImpressions can be delivered in-house. Lorraine Parfitt is Severn Trent’s Recruitment & Training Team Manager.

“I have worked for Severn Trent for 29 years,” says Lorraine “and I’m responsible for the day-to-day running of the training programme. The Institute has been incredibly supportive and, now that our internal trainers are accredited, they are able to deliver FirstImpressions in-house, which makes the programme very cost-effective.”

Big appetite for Institute training

Severn Trent’s customer relations agents are also given the opportunity to study for the Institute’s professional qualifications and there’s no shortage of volunteers.

“We give our employees the opportunity to continue their development and pursue the Institute’s Communications qualification”, says Lucy. “Across our customer relations team, about 150 staff have opted to take the next step and, with new intakes every eight weeks, we expect to put about 80 staff through the training each year.”

The Institute’s Communications qualification persuades participants to focus on the key behavioural skills needed to build relationships with customers and colleagues, as well as on the wider purpose of their role and how it fits in with the needs of the organisation.

In addition to the Communications qualification, Severn Trent has just started to offer the Institute’s Customer Service Coach qualification. “Coaching and mentoring is a huge part of what we do in the customer relations team,” explains Lorraine “we want our managers to be equipped with the right skills to deliver effective coaching. By offering these programmes, we’re also showing that we’re committed to the development and progression of our staff.”

Improving problem solving skills

Lucy and Lorraine also believe that the Institute’s training has contributed to a reduction in complaints, as agents’ problem solving skills have improved.

“Our agents have always been good at trying to resolve customer problems, but the training has helped them to think about the wider implications of their actions”, says Lorraine. “We have witnessed an increase in first-time resolutions because the agents are taking ownership of customer issues and seeing them through to resolution, rather than just passing them on to colleagues elsewhere in the business.”

Farhaad Khafley works as a Team Deputy in customer relations and supports the view that professional qualifications help agents to approach customer issues more thoughtfully. “Working towards the Communications award really helped my development. I was able to draw on my experiences and look at problem solving in a more holistic way – taking my colleagues and the business into account, as well as the needs of the customer. The award gives you the confidence to face new challenges, set yourself goals and develop skills.”

Customer feedback confirms performance improvements 

Severn Trent issues approximately 15,000 customer surveys each month and typically receives around 3,000 responses. Customers are asked to score the customer service agents, based on their performance, these scores are fed back to the agents during twice monthly coaching sessions.

“Our agent satisfaction scores have improved,” says Lucy “as have the first-time resolution scores. Although these improvements can’t all be attributed to the Institute training, it has definitely had a positive impact. 

Agents who have achieved the Communications qualification perform better than their colleagues, achieving higher feedback scores.

“It’s easy for us to say that we want to be the best in the industry,” says Lucy “but our partnership with the Institute of Customer Service helps us to demonstrate to our customers and the industry regulators, that we’re making good progress. We’re investing our time, energy and money in building a customer-centric workforce and these efforts are being rewarded through the customer feedback we receive.”