Southern Water is transforming the way it interacts with its customers – and our goal is to make our customer service comparable not just with the best in our industry but right up there with companies like Amazon which are world famous for delivering a great experience for their customers. However, that’s not to underestimate the challenges ahead.
We have come a long way in a short time and are now one of the fastest improving firms in the sector. According to a recent Consumer Council for Water survey, Southern Water saw the largest drop in customer complaints last year with a 45 per cent reduction. This represents the lowest written complaint levels for the company in ten years and we will deliver a further significant reduction in complaints this year.
We were also ranked the ninth most improved company in terms of customer satisfaction out of 244 organisations, according to a survey by the Institute of Customer Service .
While we are still towards the bottom of the industry league tables when it comes to customer service, we’re continuing to drive forward further improvements and move up the rankings and are doing this by adopting a more proactive and insight-led approach.
Over the last 12 months we’ve carried out a thorough review to ensure we can make it easier to do business with us – whether it’s online, face-to-face or over the phone, including making significant improvements to our website and customer contact centre.
There is not a ‘one size fits all’ approach to customer service and we want to provide a professional, tailored and speedy service for our customers at a time that suits them.
Simpler, Easier, Better service
The use of technology is key to our success, allowing for greater responsiveness and more focus on meeting the individual needs of our customers.
We have developed our online services and created a web portal that lets our customers manage their account online. This allows people to submit meter readings, pay bills, check their water usage, tell us they’re moving home and much more.
Since its launch, nearly 200,000 customers have already registered for a self-serve account, and close to twenty per cent of transactions are now online.
It’s important to evaluate what has worked well in the past, and crucially where we can improve in the future. We have found historically the majority of complaints to Southern Water were either about increases to payment plans or higher bills than expected, so in 2016 we set up a brand new proactive customer call team.
We stop bills with significant consumption increases going out to customers automatically and instead this team proactively contacts customers first so we can chat to them about the possible reasons for the increase and explain the charges.
By working to identify potential issues before they become a concern, we reduce the need for them to pick up the phone. This team has spoken to more than 100,000 customers this year and helped identify problems before they become a complaint.
Bringing customers in
We can learn a great deal from bringing customers into the company and hearing directly from them what they need. For example, we recently invited customers to our headquarters in Worthing to test our new website. They were able to give us an insight into their unique user experiences – giving us great feedback into what works for them, and what doesn’t.
Great customer service is not just about how quickly we answer the telephone or how well we respond to a query or a complaint. It’s also about how well we support customers when things do go wrong during a crisis such as a water outage or burst main event.
For example, if we have a burst on our mains network and customers are without supply, we need to support them with timely messages about how long they’ll be without water and where they can secure alternative supplies from our incident teams, updates on what our specialist technicians are doing to put that burst right, notice on how long there may be traffic disruption and advice on how our customers can best avoid that disruption and get on with their daily lives.
This has to be across multi-channels to ensure we are speaking to everyone from the tech-savvy to the technophobe – from traditional media, face-to-face door knocking, calls, emails and social media to spread important messaging during a crisis.
Getting this right every time is what will distinguish us from other companies and ensure that we give our customers great service.
Helping those who need it most
Great customer service is about knowing your customer and asking the right questions to make sure we understand and can meet individual needs. For example, our affordability team do a lot of work around vulnerability and offering the right support to those experiencing financial difficulties.
Thanks to this proactive approach there has been increased take up of our range of social tariffs and we have provided more than 217,000 customers with financial help and advice.
We’ve also committed to working with water-only companies in our region to ensure all customers who need support get the same level of help, regardless of their provider.
The future of water
It is a time of great change, both within the water industry and across wider society. Customer expectation has never been higher and people expect a fast, resilient and affordable service 24/7, every day of the year.
We are confident that, building on the progress we have already made, we are in a great position to continue our improvement and deliver the excellent service our customers quite rightly expect.
Already, 66% of our customers feel our service meets their individual needs and 67% of calls reach first time resolution.