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UTILITY Week 25th September 2015

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6 | 25TH SEPTEMBER - 1ST OCTOBER 2015 | UTILITY WEEK People & Opinion We are there to serve WWU competes with John Lewis when it comes to customer service scores – sadly the energy sector as a whole can't say the same. Chief executive's view Graham Edwards, Wales & West Utilities A few weeks ago I read with disappointment the latest customer service results from the Institute of Customer Service (ICS), where the util- ity sector scored the lowest of all sectors of the UK economy at 71.4 The comments of chief executive Jo Causon certainly ring true for me when she says that "customer service isn't just a nice to have, it is central to the success of a business" Given some of the horror sto- ries in recent years, I guess we shouldn't be surprised by such results – although as a chief executive in the sector it saddens me greatly. I'm sure all my coun- terparts would prefer to be part of a sector that is viewed posi- tively for what it delivers to the UK wellbeing. However, there are some companies in our sector which are certainly bucking this dis- appointing trend, my own included. At the same time as these results emerged we had our own company results from ICS and were delighted to score 91.8. ICS tells us our score places us well clear at the top of the utility sec- tor. However, even more pleasing for me is that our score places us among the top handful of companies across the wider UK economy as a whole. We are now rubbing shoulders with the likes of John Lewis, Direct Line and Virgin in terms of customer sat- isfaction – a clear demonstration for me that if we get things right as a sector we can compete with the best. So why is there such dispar- ity among utility company per- formance? To use that well used saying, good service is not rocket science. We can all reflect on our own personal experiences and know what good and bad service looks like. For me the drive for excel- lent service needs to be fully embedded in the organisation psyche. In Wales & West Utilities we have been on the customer journey since our start-up in 2005. We know that customers can't choose their gas network, but our aim has always been to ensure that if they could they would choose us. We also know we won't always get things right first time – however, our own experi- ence tells us that with the right attitude you can recover such situations most of the time. It is great to see that our highest category score in the ICS results is the 'friendliness of our staff '. As chief executive I regularly get customers writing to tell me how well individual staff have treated them. At Wales & West Utilities we have put huge effort into cus- tomer service over the years – for me it is very much a "hearts and minds" issue. Getting opera- tional staff who basically just want to get the job done, to take the time to properly explain to customers what they are doing and check they are happy with the outcome, is a good example. And it's great that all the effort we have put in is reflected in our consistent performance – we have been the top gas network for customer satisfaction for five of the past seven years, winning a ra of awards as a result. This doesn't happen unless the tone is clearly set from the top. Our people take it seriously themselves because they see we as leaders believe it and demon- strate it. In turn our people put customer service at the heart of what they do, and to see our cus- tomers agree through our scores is a fantastic endorsement. However, striving for excel- lent customer service is very much a continuous journey. We are constantly questioning how we can improve further. Maybe the way we improve collectively as a sector is through greater sharing of learning and best practice, and avoiding the "not invented here" mentality that oen gets in the way. Wouldn't it be great if sometime soon we get the feedback that we are one of the top performing sectors in the UK. That would be a proud place to be. "Balancing the safety of employees with their wish to dress in accordance with their religious belief has always been a difficult issue for employers" Michael Ryley, partner in the employment team at Weightmans LLP on the extension of rules which allow Sikhs to wear a turban in place of a safety helmet on construction sites to all workplaces as of 1 October 2015. Get more insight into recent H&S developments at the Utility Week Health and Safety Conference, 24 November, Birmingham: www.uw-hs.net

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