Changing how you think about your customer
Customers whose land is affected by infrastructure programmes are inundated by letters labelled “Important this affects your property!” and end up dealing with a plethora of people – Infrastructure Provider (IP), suppliers, a multitude of sub-contractors, often with little or no visibility of where they are in the process. This can lead to frustration, confusion and add to the stress of having your home acquired, impacting the wellbeing of individuals. IPs need to learn from other sectors to shift the paradigm and transition to a truly customer focused journey.Programmes are getting more complex, with increasing numbers of “affected parties” and increasingly more complex interactions. Customers’ expectations are also increasing as are the channels for them to express their disapproval and as such things need to change.
Back to basics
It is a fundamental fact that you cannot build an infrastructure project without the land for construction. In order to secure the land, an IP must engage with individuals and businesses - the customers. So, customers are inextricably linked to a critical path issue – you can’t get the land without engaging with the customer. Yet the “customer experience” on mega-projects is far from ideal. The Department for Transport undertook a Ministerial review raising concerns that HS2 needed to focus more on customer journey. The pace, and complexity of mega-projects nowadays increases the pressure on those delivering, but what is the real cause of unsatisfactory customer journeys?
Affected party or customer?
According to customer service and engagement expert Marilyn Suttle, “How you think about your customer influences how you respond to them.” This rings true in the case of infrastructure programmes where the customer is often referred to as the “affected party”. The language used arises from the statutory processes used to purchase land compulsorily, with references to “those whose properties are affected”. Because of this, the way land for major programmes is secured hasn’t changed much for years and these archaic practises and language exacerbate the problem. There is an element of getting the right processes in place and the right technology to manage the processes but even if you get the best process and technology it won’t help until there is a paradigm shift in the mindsets of those involved in the delivery of land for major infrastructure programmes. Only once you truly consider those affected as ‘customers’ rather than an affected party, you begin to think about them in terms of taking them on a customer journey, as opposed to an obstacle in the way of a delivery goal.
Understanding your customers
Despite attempts to change within the infrastructure sector, changing the label isn’t enough. Calling someone a customer and still treating them like an affected party doesn’t help – you also need to understand your customers. Customers whose land is affected are not a homogenous group. The needs and experience of an elderly person faced with compulsory purchase is very different from that of a large business or a major land owner who has legal and commercial support and land agents who manage their land portfolios. There needs to be an understanding of all the different types of customer and develop a needs-based segmentation model that considers not only functional, but also emotional needs.
To develop a people-centred experience, building on that customer understanding is vital. It starts with customers and their needs, developing principles and the requirements needed to deliver the desired experience. Typically this would include building personas and scenarios to really understand and flesh out what the customers’ requirements are. Personas and scenarios help to focus our minds on the pains and needs of the end-user, and build empathy.
It’s too easy for siloed teams to get caught up in their world; the processes they use and their internal challenges, and lose sight of the real live human at the end of the chain. It’s imperative that those personas and scenarios are developed collaboratively with input from across the business, not only because it leads to richer and more truthful representations of customers, but because buy-in from across the organisation starts here. Using those scenarios and personas to dig into the customer pain points means collectively creating a view of customer pains and it sets the foundation for creating a similarly shared view of what a target experience might look like to solve those pains. Therefore providing focus on how to improve the customer journey and deliver the desired customer experience.
Customers expect more, who is delivering more?
This is how the retail, financial services and to some extent the utilities sector are ensuring they retain their customer base – by understanding the customer and tailoring the customer journey to meet their needs and requirements. Customers are more demanding and digitally savvy with a view on what good customer service looks like. Customers expect more information and ease of access to data and get it from everyday services from retail to car insurance. Post-COVID-19 digital innovation has accelerated, a necessity rather than a nice to have, and platforms are rapidly evolving to respond to demand.
So why shouldn’t an individual or business expect the same level of experience from a multi-billion pound infrastructure programme? Whilst acknowledging buying a digital device or car insurance isn’t the same as having your house compulsorily purchased, there is still much to be learned.
Learning from other sectors to shift the paradigm and transition to a truly customer focused journey can accelerate delivery
Infrastructure programmes are at the opposite end of the spectrum to customer experience (CX) in other sectors such as retail, financial services or even utilities which are taking a lead in the infrastructure arena. Rather than taking lessons learned from previous similar projects, which have often failed to get CX right, they should be drawing on those who are leaders in this area.
Closer to home in central government, HMRC has had success with its digital tax transformation processes that typically was not customer centric but saw users as a challenge to be overcome. They then took a human centred design approach and saw that not only were people happier, but they increased compliance and improved outcomes. As a result of understanding the customer better they had the following results:
- nearly half a million more returns were filed online (9.25 million in total); paper returns were down 21%
- telephone contact was down 7%
- phone wait times were halved (down to 5.16 minutes)
The irony is that a happy customer with a trusting relationship is more willing to engage with the acquisition process, which in turn will enable Infrastructure Providers to accelerate delivery.