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Watch Andy Pymer, Executive Director of Finance and Regulation at Wessex Water, highlight how membership and ServiceMark with Distinction helped them achieve a high rank in Ofwat’s Customer Measure of Experience and Developer Services Measure of Experience league tables.

Watch Dean Anderson, Customer Experience Manager at Edinburgh Trams, share how ServiceMark and Professional Qualifications, among other membership benefits, have helped them consistently grow their customer base over the last 7 years, increase colleagues and customer satisfaction, reduce complaints handling and increase employee retention.

Watch the inspiring story of Hampshire County Council’s transformation journey and how the improvement in service performance brought a positive impact on employee engagement and business performance.
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Hampshire County Council (HCC) became our first member to use our recently introduced Qualifications Programme Management (QPM) service.

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Watch Trevor Davis, Deputy Head of Operations, describe how Pension Protection Fund’s training programme, accredited by The Institute, has equipped their employees with the right knowledge and skills to encourage customer service excellence.

 

Watch Gary Lewis, CEO of The Travel Network Group, highlight the benefits of membership and using Business Benchmarking to improve emotional connection with their members.

 

The Chartered Insurance Institute (CII) Customer Service team have committed to working with the Institute of Customer Service to deliver their programme of professional qualifications. The Institute is providing the CII team with the tools to develop their existing knowledge and skills that will in turn improve their customer experience. The first qualification is based around communication. Each person who enrols in the program (known as a practitioner) is assigned to a coach. The coach then provides support as the practitioner works their way through the suite of Institute qualifications.

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Whether at home or at work, we all rely on the power supply to keep us going about our day to day lives. Maintaining the power network is therefore a big responsibility, requiring rapid response and high levels of customer service when issues arise.

One distribution network operator (DNO) with a large customer base spread across two distinct geographical areas is SP Energy Networks. The organisation looks after the power supply to some 3.5 million households in Central and Southern Scotland and in Merseyside, Cheshire, North Wales and North Shropshire. This involves maintaining around 40,000km of overhead lines and 65,000km of underground cables, no small task!

SP Energy Networks has a team of 1,500 field engineers who interact directly with customers when an issue needs resolving or networks need to be maintained, and a contact centre team of around 65 people who handle phone calls, emails and other communications from and with customers.

A busy contact centre

The contact centre handles some 1 million calls a year, with daily volumes varying significantly depending on whether or not a power interruption arises. If a storm damages the supply network, calls can shoot up from the daily average of 1,500 to as many as 80,000. The contact centre runs itself like an emergency service with normal phone call response times impressively low, at under 10 seconds.

“Providing outstanding customer service is a major priority for us,” says Kendal Morris, General Manager Customer & Social Delivery at SP Energy Networks. “We have to be ready to deal with a wide range of enquiries. If there is a power cut or fault, then of course customers can be quick to contact us. But we also proactively contact customers ourselves especially our more vulnerable customers, for example, if there is planned maintenance due to the supply in their area. Customers also contact us for new connections or with general enquiries, which can be anything from reporting graffiti to requesting some earthing work in their property.”

The majority of customer contact, apart from face to face in the field, is done by phone. However, queries also come via email and contact forms from the website. The company also runs various social media accounts and monitors and responds to enquiries through those channels.

On the customer service journey

In recent years, the business has significantly increased its focus on customer service, as Kendal explains: “Our CEO Frank Mitchell recognised a number of years ago that a culture change was needed across the organisation to ensure decisions were made with our customers at the heart of every plan and action. We are an engineering business and it is really important our engineering standards are high, however decisions need to be made from a customer service perspective.”

This service emphasis is also important because, as a regulated business, every customer contact that SP Energy Network has is passed to a third party and scored. The business needs to achieve at least 8.2 points out of 10 on average to avoid a financial penalty and so customer satisfaction needs to be exceptional.

Satisfaction scores have risen year on year over the last 8 years which shows the strategy is working and customers are receiving an excellent service.

Training and benchmarking

Kendal said “as part of our customer service strategy SP Energy Networks joined The Institute of Customer Service. Over the last two years, the business has rolled out customer service training via The Institute’s Academy, with around 200 staff members having been through the programme to date.

The Academy has delivered FirstImpressions customer service training to staff as well as ServiceManagement training which is designed for managers and team leaders.

The training we’ve done with The Institute has definitely helped us enhance our customer service focus,” Kendal says. “It reinforces a customer culture and provides a consistent platform. It’s also really effective in bringing people together who might not work directly with each other on a day-to-day basis and building a team mentality, while the project work involved extends the learnings and embeds them further. It also means that we can provide customer service qualifications to staff, where previously the business only really invested in engineering and technical qualifications, so that’s an important benefit for many of our people.

One of the most valuable parts of membership for the business is the annual benchmarking exercise that The Institute conducts. The most recent benchmarking in February 2019 gave SP Energy Networks a customer satisfaction score that was 1.7 points higher than the top organisation in The Institute’s UK Customer Service Index.

We were very pleased to have such a good score of course,” Kendal reflects. “Network Operators like ourselves aren’t included in the UKCSI itself because of the ambiguity it would create with frontline energy suppliers (they people you pay your energy bill to). But our score enables us to benchmark ourselves against businesses outside our industry and shows us that we’re on the right track .”

Looking to the future

One area that has become increasingly important to the company, as well as regulators, is supporting vulnerable customers. Customers can register across 30 different categories of vulnerability for support during a power interruption. Of the 3.5 million households SP Energy Networks serves, some 980,000 customers have registered for support.

“We need to identify customers in vulnerable circumstances because obviously any power cut or interruption to supply could have serious consequences for some individuals,” Kendal explains. “We engage in proactive outreach to identify vulnerable customers and also partner with charities and other organisations who provide services that may help them. We offer services to our customers far wider than customers may expect from a network operator such as befriending services, benefits checks and dementia support.

Developing specific training for our staff to support those with vulnerabilities has become an important focus for us, whether we develop and deliver that training ourselves or with The Institute or another organisation.

Meanwhile, we look forward to continuing our membership of The Institute and working together to keep driving our customer satisfaction scores as high as we can get them.”

Opus’ Service Delivery Team discuss how The Institute has helped them drive a huge improvement in their customer satisfaction levels and boost their Net Promoter Score from around 20 to 50-60.

 

Our work included:

  • A comprehensive review of existing customer service feedback systems
  • Full analysis of existing data and development of a new reporting framework
  • Development of a customer engagement programme as part of experience redesign for different customer groups

The Motability scheme is a vital service for people with severe disabilities through which individuals can use their government mobility allowance to lease a car, scooter or power chair. The scheme is run by the charity Motability and delivered operationally by Motability Operations. There are some 630,000 people with leases on the scheme, meaning that administrating it and ensuring excellent standards of service is a complex task. It involves a high degree of partnership working as the lease scheme offers a whole package of services including insurance, breakdown services, tyre replacement, service and maintenance, all delivered by different parties and covered by the customer’s single regular payment.

Motability Operations has around 900 staff, with some 200 based at a contact centre in Bristol. The centre receives well over a million calls a year and most of its interactions with customers are voice-based, although there is also a web chat facility.

Going digital

Motability Operations prides itself on the high level of customer satisfaction that it consistently achieves, and indeed it was recently the highest scoring organisation across any sector in the Institute’s UK Customer Satisfaction Index (UKCSI). It has been a member of The Institute since 2011 and holds the ServiceMark accreditation. However, in recent times the organisation has recognised the need to move its services to a more digital platform. At present, customers cannot transact online with the company, any significant transaction or change is done by phone or face to face. Ian Goswell, Commercial Director at Motability Operations, explains: “We have some basic digital services but realised that we need to make a more substantial transition. This is not to replace or downgrade our voice services, but to provide an additional channel for our customers that they can choose to use if it suits them. This would also give us the opportunity to potentially offer new products and services that customers might find valuable, such as around car-sharing or a journey planning tool for example.”

However, as Ian explains, the organisation did not want to simply launch digital services for the sake of it. “The idea of the move to a digital platform causing any erosion in our service levels is completely unacceptable to us. So we’ve been absolutely clear from the outset the customer experience via digital channels must be identical to that of our voice-based services. And our voice-based services must maintain their existing quality. That’s been our ambition and guiding principle.”

Inspiration from The Institute’s Annual Conference

It was while Ian and his team were contemplating putting the digital project in motion that a very timely event happened, The Institute’s Annual Conference, which takes place in March each year. At the 2016 conference, Ian was particularly struck by the presentations given by two speakers. “There was an excellent session from Tony Prestedge, Director & Group Chief Operating Officer, Nationwide Building Society who was talking on exactly the subject I was thinking about,” Ian says. “What really hit home in his speech was that he said Nationwide had always been determined to avoid the trap of ‘digital by default’, i.e forcing customers down the digital channel. Sometimes, this can be an excuse to reduce other frontline services. But for Nationwide, they made it a principle to let customers interact with the Society in the way they wanted to. So that was an important validation for me of how we had already been thinking.” The second presentation to leave its mark was given by the Head of Customer Service at Marks & Spencer, Jo Moran. “What stood out here was the extent to which customer satisfaction mattered and was analysed in the Boardroom,” Ian recalls. “The M&S Board had really taken it to another level. They clearly regarded it as a fundamental strategic driver. It has always been discussed in our Board meetings too, but Jo Moran’s presentation inspired me to make sure we gave it even more emphasis. The whole conference was a great event. It was really well compered by the BBC Breakfast presenter Naga Munchetty, she did a great job of talking to the presenters and drawing out more nuanced information.”

Exchange visits

But it wasn’t just The Institute’s Annual Conference that proved useful to Ian and his team. “Being members of The Institute has helped us in several other ways. You get access to other organisations’ smart thinking about key issues and can look at what they have learned. Another thing that has been invaluable to us is exchange visits that we have arranged with other organisations who are also Institute members. For example, some of my team visited HSBC to learn from them about their web chat service, this was directly useful to us in setting up our own facility. Being members of The Institute means that you meet other organisations at events and seminars and can get talking to them on specific operational issues. Often it’s not the top-level Boardroom contacts that are hard to make, it’s getting to meet operational management and develop contacts there. That’s been a real plus.”

Membership insights

The company has also gained some critical insights from The Institute benchmarking surveys that it takes part in. “They are massively important to us,” Ian says. “We have a very specialised customer base and we want to make sure we can relate the service we provide to other customer groups and see how it translates. We have gained some little insights that have profound implications. For example, the surveys have shown us that we score extremely highly for the ease with which customers feel they can do business with us. We might otherwise have lazily assumed that because our interactions are voice-based, our ease of doing business might not be so good. But it’s given us the evidence that this is a strength and so it’s been critical to ensure that we don’t lose that in the move to digital, it’s about ensuring we maintain the same ease and flexibility.”

Nearing go-live

The company’s digital plans are now beginning to near go-live, with a gradual but progressive roll-out of digital services planned to start from next year. “We’re well-developed with our plans now,” Ian says. “What we’ve learned through the various Institute events and platforms has been crucially important to us as our journey has progressed.”

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