The water industry is under immense pressure to change, so in this issue, we speak to Guy Letts, Founder and MD of CustomerSure, about how customer feedback can drive business success.

Guy is well placed to offer us insights into how and why the water industry needs to embrace customer feedback, for he’s spent much of his career helping businesses to improve their customer relations, including a spell as Head of Services at FTSE 100 company, Sage.

“The pressures of competition and compliance are the driving forces propelling the water industry today. Different companies are responding to these pressures in different ways and this is very much down to their company culture,” explains Guy.

“How a company serves their customers and responds to feedback is an opportunity to create a strong competitive advantage – and in an industry where competition is being introduced and margins are slim, it’s important to get it right.”

Put customers first

“Doing the best job for your customers is seen as the route to commercial success in some organisations – but in many others service isn’t the strongest influence.

“Back in the 1980’s when I first began working, I was fortunate to start work at a fabulous British technology company that was a leader in their field, known for the quality of its technical work and its great service. Yet we never used the term ‘customer service’ – we simply put the customer first and on the odd occasions that something went wrong, we fixed it at no cost to the customer. 

“This customer-focused ethos was one of the company’s greatest assets and it gave me a good grounding. Since then, I’ve specialised in helping companies to be more successful by embracing customer feedback .”

The role of company culture

“Customer service is largely determined by company culture and changing that can be difficult – it has to be led from the top. A company’s leaders set the pace. Their own behaviours, and what they choose to measure and reward people for, drive the culture.

“In an aggressively sales-focused environment, it’s very difficult to champion service from a mid-level role as you are going against the grain. There is little hope of change unless the leadership wants to change.

“Conversely, where there is an ethos of customer service set from the top, your team will be empowered to take initiatives that deliver excellent service, knowing that if anything is challenged, their motives will be understood and they’ll receive support.”

Choose targets with care

“Targets are crucial, but people often choose the wrong ones. Perhaps surprisingly, targets tied to service are particularly ill-conceived because they are a poor proxy for genuine customer satisfaction. When people are incentivised to reach a target, they’ll find a way to make the numbers look good, regardless of what’s really happening.

“As Goodhart’s law suggests, when a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.

“So of course you should be measuring customer satisfaction, but better targets for water companies to set in the new era of competition are ones which directly relate to financial performance, such as:

Are we retaining customers?

  At what rate are we acquiring new customers?

  Are we winning market share or is it declining?

Are customers trusting us more and increasing their spend on additional services?

Welcome feedback

“Welcoming and responding effectively to customer feedback was by far the most effective initiative I found in many years of being accountable for customer service, in terms of the impact it had on the company’s performance. But what I also found is that although customers love to give feedback, the bad news is that they hate the way most companies collect it.

“Providing feedback must be easy for customers. Busy service professionals frequently fear that if they make the process easy, they’ll have more work to do – but this is far from being the case – making the feedback process difficult is a huge mistake.

“The reason making feedback easy is so effective is that it takes away the guesswork. If you are successfully measuring and acting on customer feedback quickly, by definition you are doing what your customers want and you are providing investment where it’s needed most.”

Annual survey shortcomings

“Companies frequently run annual customer surveys and collate the findings but don’t act on individual problems. We often find that companies have received cries for help that have been ignored, so issues that could have been resolved at an early stage escalate into far more significant and time-consuming problems.

“Annual surveys can have a place, but they don’t allow you to act on feedback when it matters most to your customers. Instead of running an annual survey, ask yourself, when do customers want to give feedback?

“You’ll find there are key moments that this is the case – for example when a customer has opened a new account, received a bill, has had a meter installed or in the event of an emergency. Enable customers to give feedback when they want to and make doing so a great experience.

“Have the confidence to abandon the traditional ways of doing things and simplify your processes – it is dramatically effective. You don’t need masses of data: Provide your customers with three or four scored questions about the factors that are most important to them and a comments box – it’s as simple as that and you’ll know whether they are happy or not, and why.”

Act on feedback

“The reason that responding to customer feedback often isn’t done well is that it is typically led by market researchers – who are skilled at market research – but don’t hold the keys to improving service. Measuring satisfaction is less than half the job – what you do next is the magic ingredient – if you get it right.

“When you receive feedback, think through what customers would reasonably expect you to do – avoid giving customers the standard reply about their feedback being important to you, instead act quickly and decisively to address their concerns.

“Avoid further calls on the same issue. If something has gone wrong on that day – resolve it on that day. By acting quickly, you’ll find that much of your work falls away and you’ll make savings in terms of the time and resources taken up resolving ongoing issues. People fear that making customer feedback easy will increase the workload, but in fact, the opposite is true.

“Fixing the problems about which you receive feedback is the most effective way of improving customer satisfaction. Conversely, collating feedback but not acting on it defeats the purpose of collecting that data – you don’t fatten a pig by weighing it.”

Looking forward

“Commercially and compliance-wise, the water industry is changing. Companies are compelled to improve their customer service and to achieve this, they need to listen to customer feedback and act on it swiftly.

“Giving feedback should be a good experience for your customers. Make it easy, make it pleasant and your customers will thank you – and you’ll reap the benefits of improved customer satisfaction and retention.

The key to high quality insights and high response rates is to make giving feedback a great experience for your customers. That’s the principle that inspired our product.

 “We have a 100% track record of our feedback software working for all of our customers – they find it liberating, that it reduces their workload, allowing their efforts to be focused on what their customers need. That’s why we’ve been voted the best customer feedback solution by 3,700 customer service professionals – the largest impartial survey of its kind.

“If you think there is something in what I am saying, trial our software in a small way – it doesn’t have to be all or nothing – just dip your toe in the water and see the benefits. We are here to support you and we are not like every other software company you know.”