Utility Week

Utility Week 1st May

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26 | 1ST - 7TH MAY 2015 | UTILITY WEEK Customers A problem shared is a problem solved The inconvenience streetworks cause is often unavoidable, put public anger can be assuaged if people are simply kept informed. C ommunicate, collaborate and inno- vate. Those were the recommenda- tions for delegates at a roundtable hosted by Utility Week and Elgin on 16 April titled Streetworks Communi- cations and Challenges, which explored the many challenges utilities face when under- taking necessary but unpopular streetworks. "Communication must start from the point that a project is conceived," Wales & West Utilities' streetworks manager Graham Bond opened the discussion by saying. He urged companies to take care over identify- ing the real customer in each project, and to ensure messages about projects are tailored and targeted accordingly, from the start. Latching on to this "key messages" theme, attendees discussed the role of local media and agreed they should form a for- mal part of any communications campaign, being encouraged to share good news, as well as bad. With more than eight in ten adults hav- ing access to digital information via com- puters, smart phones or tablets, it was also noted that utility companies have an unprec- edented opportunity to take control and be proactive in the dissemination of news and information. Key distribution channels included social media websites such as Face- book and Twitter. Critically, though, Ofgem associate part- ner Paul Branston pointed out that customer expectations evolve and will continue to evolve in parallel with technological and social developments. As such, a utility's streetworks communications strategy cannot be static. It must evolve and try to capital- ise on every emerging opportunity to shape public perceptions about the contribution utilities make to individuals, communities and businesses. Furthermore, nuanced communica- tions strategies are needed for planned and unplanned interruptions. The right approach to each will differ greatly. The delegates Paul Branston, associate partner, costs and outputs, smarter grids and governance, Ofgem "Maintaining energy networks requires intervention in the highway. Interestingly, it is during these interventions when most customers will see their network companies. "Part of the challenge is for customers to Getting the nuance and focus of commu- nications right is an increasingly difficult task for utilities, which are largely failing to match the same levels of customer service set by benchmark sectors like retail and telecommunications. Data from the Institute of Customer Ser- vice suggests that although utilities are improving rapidly, they are still the lowest performing sector in the UK on customer satisfaction. Conversation at the roundtable reflected a belief that step change improvements in cus- tomer satisfaction could be achieved through a more thorough approach to communica- tions – one that sought to create a culture of service throughout the organisation and throughout the lifecycle of streetworks pro- jects, not simply via traditional or designated customer touch points. To maximise the impact of this culture shi, forward thinking attendees also advo- cated widespread collaboration – with local authorities and communities as well as between utilities – to lessen the impact of unavoidable streetworks, via co-ordination and sharing best practice. The utility representatives around the table were enthused about the idea of greater collaboration – and enjoyed the opportu- nity to share their experiences at the event. However, they conceded that more needed be done to make structured knowledge and information-sharing between utilities, local authorities and communities a business-as- usual reality. Meanwhile, attendees also called for con- tinued investment in innovation for "no-dig" techniques, with the ultimate goal of remov- ing the need to dig up roads at all. They were positive about the contribution of new asset condition monitoring technologies to achieving this and welcomed new regulatory frameworks that incentivise innovative and collaborative behaviours among streetworks stakeholders. Samantha Brothwell, streetworks policy manager, Western Power Distribution "It's not the highway authorities' public or the utilities' public, it's the same public. Maybe it's time that the rules were looked at to reflect this." Roundtable Streetworks Communications & Challenges London, 16 April, 2015

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