Utilities today face disruptive forces that challenge their ability to meet rising customer service standards. These forces include tightening operational budgets, increasing expectations of customer service levels, heightened regulatory scrutiny and advancing technology. Given the extent of these challenges, it is not surprising that major US investor-owned utilities reported a decline in revenues from 2011 to 2012 .
For utilities, meeting today’s customer service challenges and the anticipated customer service requirements of the future will be difficult without perfecting core delivery fundamentals. Establishing a strong foundation for customer service will increase investment returns now and in the future. The dilemma is finding out which fundamentals matter most.
Five customer service fundamentals
PA Consulting Group has identified five elements of leading performance in customer service that stand out above all. These elements – ethos, measurement, alignment, customer analytics, and risk management - apply to all environments and reside in what we would consider fundamental business requirements. They function independently of discrete tactics such as purchasing the most capable systems or selecting the most insightful software.
1. Ethos (the bedrock of customer service) – Difficult to describe but obvious when in place, the culture or ethos that is necessary to achieve such a wide array of objectives, including customer service goals, is the bedrock of a service organisation. It resides below the concrete structure of a company and often ties to a leader’s ability to establish a sense of pride, a winning attitude and a customer-focused mindset. While unique for each utility, leaders leverage the energy and commitment that flows from culture to achieve high marks across the three diverse goals of low cost, high customer service and strong satisfaction.
2. Measurement (fueling the accountability engine) – Establishing an operating language rooted in simple performance measurements is the path to achieving accountability and, as a result, strong performance on customer service. Leading utilities involve the whole workforce, from the executive suite to the field. The line of sight across this span of activities is clear and staff are expected to tie all activities to the metrics. Enforceable Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), targets, and scorecards result in engaged employees, who, in turn, pay attention to process. This tie-in to accountability results in employee engagement which is critical to achieving customer service objectives.
3. Alignment (delivering strong customer service by operating as one) – Alignment is in place when cross-functional teams work together to eliminate the blind spots that can impact performance and customer service. Blind spots tend to reside in the unclaimed territory between functional boundaries. Weaknesses in coordination, the sharing of information, and communication create an environment that is more susceptible to trigger events that strain operations and degrade performance and customer service. In most cases, the push-pull across functional areas often results in surprises to customers and adverse impacts on customer service and satisfaction. Consistent outcomes across functions point to a solid and aligned organisation.
4. Customer analytics (data mining for value) – Working smarter in customer operations begins with a deep understanding of customer behaviour. Moving from experience-based decision-making to evidence-based decision-making can generate attractive benefits in improved performance outcomes on customer service, improved employee satisfaction and reduced risk. Utilities that rely heavily on customer analytics are taking the next step to develop optimisation tools that enable scenario comparisons and determine optimal customer service strategies.
5. Risk management (reducing unnecessary exposure) – While risk management is a known and valued discipline in business, the application of best practice risk management techniques to customer operations is not embraced widely in the utility sector. Key components include: policy adherence, forward-looking analysis and reporting on agreed upon risk factors, and governance.
For utilities in every market, these customer service fundamentals are essential to strong performance today and are baseline requirements for successfully operating in the future.
To learn more about how we can help your utility identify opportunities to drive improved customer service contact us now.