Utility Week

Utility Week 9th January 2015

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utILIty WEEK | 9th - 15th January 2015 | 9 Interview I t will come as no surprise to many to learn that the utilities sector languishes at the bottom of the UK Customer Service Satisfaction Index (UKCSI). This guide is published every six months by the Institute of Customer Service (ICS) to measure cross-sector cus- tomer service performance and its effect on factors such as trust and loyalty. Utilities' lacklustre standing on the index reflects the views of a disgruntled and oen unin- formed public that struggles to understand the causes for rising bills and is more than ready to share a wealth of anecdotes about painful billing errors and shoddy call centre experiences. But while utilities overall may have scored just 69.4 in the July 2014 UKCSI, three utilities – Northern Ire- land Electricity (NIE), Wessex Water and Welsh Water – exceeded the cross-sector UK average of 76.3. Indeed, NIE achieved a stellar 80.8, placing it just ahead of Marks & Spencer (non-food). ICS chief executive Jo Causon says this proves com- panies are masters of their own fate when it comes to delivering great customer service and that it is perfectly possible to "buck the trend". It's not that she is unsym- pathetic to companies struggling to improve their service performance. She acknowledges that it is a difficult envi- ronment – but this is true for all sectors. Utilities are not a special case. "If you look at the overall UKCSI," she explains, "aer three-and-a-half years of continuous improvement across sectors in levels of customer satisfaction, we've seen quite a significant drop-off overall." Is this the inevitable result of an increasingly demanding consumer class? Causon doesn't think so. While she does believe that expectation will rise relent- lessly, innovation and an integrated approach to service strategy can keep organisations ahead of the curve. "Customers today have less money in their pockets and are more savvy and demanding," she says. "They benchmark their customer experiences across sectors, so it is no good only benchmarking your performance as a company within your industry. We all know that, as consumers, we readily compare the experience we have, on the phone or via email, with experiences in other per- It's not all bad Despite being criticised for its poor performance on customer satisfaction and trust, there is an increasing silver lining to this grey cloud over the utility sector, according to Jo Causon. First, she points out, in the latest UKCSI, the utilities sector was the only industry group to improve its position. While this upli was marginal, Causon is optimistic that the results of the next index – due later this month – will show more improvement. Second, she says that by turning certain problem areas on their heads, some of the biggest perceived challenges in customer satisfaction can be turned into big opportunities. For instance, take younger customers. While this demographic is among the smallest in the UKCSI, Causon believes it could be converted into a powerhouse for improvement of satisfaction ratings. Why? "Because when they have a good experience they are far more likely to express that, by giving it a thumbs up or a 'like'." Converting the youth of today into advocates rather than critics is essential because "they are the future – the older people of tomorrow", says Causon, enthusiastically clenching her fists and urging, "This is really worth going for, guys."

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