United Utilities use positive customer feedback to recognise their people and top the SIM charts. Derek Williams, Founder and Chief Executive of The WOW! Awards, shares his thoughts.

Once upon a time…

Basil Martinez, a young man, was clearing tables in a London coffee shop. He worked incredibly hard to delight his customers. Basil was one of the very first people to be nominated by a customer for The WOW! Awards.

Basil deserved to be rewarded but there was nothing I could give him other than a simple certificate and a sincere, “Thank you”. In that moment, I saw a level of motivation and engagement that I had never seen before. I’ve since spent 21 years catching people doing things right and I’m still learning about the power of recognition.

Q. What’s the difference between a water company, a retailer, a hospital, a property management company?

A. Nothing, from a customer’s point of view. The product might be different but the customer’s expectation of service is the same. Customers compare service providers even when they are in different industries. And their frustrations are universal; organisations that don’t return a phone call, overly scripted systems, lack of empowerment, not being kept informed.

What really makes a difference between the best service providers and the rest, is a difference in its people, people like Basil; ordinary people trying their best to do an extraordinary job. People in the front line reflect the leadership and management. All the training is wasted if you don’t have a system to encourage the right behaviours every single day. So often, I see managers who think that it’s about controlling people. In great organisations management is all about empowering people and when those people get it right customers love to say, “Thank you”. With a reason to celebrate and take pride in their work, service goes up again, more customers are happy and business improves for everyone. It’s a virtuous circle.

The WOW! Awards have supported United Utilities for six years. It’s grown from just a handful of customer nominations to over 600 customers taking the time to say what they, “Love about the service!” every single month. This is completely contrary to the myth that customers only ever want to complain. It’s so much more than a numeric score, this customer feedback is full of sentiment and emotion and really reinforces the strategic values. It tells people at United Utilities exactly what they need to do more of. Success comes from three simple steps:-

1. Make it easy for your customers to say, “Thank you.” It feels like most organisations have closed their compliments counter because there is no system. Customer compliments are like rocket fuel; they praise your people in much greater numbers than your management ever can and it comes with heartfelt sincerity.

2. Create an independent judging process. Politics and bureaucracy bring down well intended initiatives. At The WOW! Awards we look for consistency of service, doing the right thing and WOW! moments.

3. Make it happen. Compliments and employee recognition are rarely urgent; they can easily get side-lined. Give someone the responsibility and the resources to judge and process your nominations every single month, create beautiful certificates that can be presented by management and will be treasured by the recipients. Take time to make people feel special. At The WOW! Awards we typically issue a certificate of recognition for 30% of the nominations we receive. That’s a lot of positive reinforcement and gives people real pride in their work.

Research by the Engage for Success movement demonstrates that better engaged employees are more productive and produce better results. The most powerful driver of employee engagement is personal recognition. If employees really are your greatest asset then you need a long-term strategy to attract, develop and retain the best. In a world where it is so easy for customers to complain, the need to catch your people doing things right is greater than ever.

Top tips for catching people doing things right:

  • Do lots of it. Employee of the month is not nearly enough
  • Do it as often as you can. Look out for people who have given great service and congratulate them as soon as you can.
  • Include middle management and team leaders in your praise. The watch only works if every single cog works
  • Understand the difference between recognition and reward.

So many people take the time to contact me and thank me for their WOW! Award. I hear things like… “This is my motivation.” “This is the best day of my life!” “This inspires me.” “You’ve changed my life.” In this highly sophisticated and technical world, let’s remember that sincere recognition creates a great place to work and a great place to be a customer.

For more information about The WOW! Awards, contact Joanne Williams,
Tel +44 (0) 7792 732510