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The future of our customer service

Posted on: 09/10/2020

At Wales & West Utilities, we have always prided ourselves on our customer service. We like to think we’re good at it: In 2019/20 our customers scored us 9.17/10, while the Institute of Customer Service benchmark surveys rank us highly too.

But as 2020 has demonstrated, the world is changing quickly, and for company’s focussed on customer service there’s no room for complacency. The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of a high quality, flexible customer experience. Amazon set a very high bar, with orders placed late in the evening delivered the next day, while supermarket delivery demand has soared, and those business’ have adapted their approach quickly. And as the pandemic has illustrated, the need to identify and support customers in vulnerable situations has never been so important.

We already have a range of support measures in place for the most vulnerable in our communities, and in independent auditors recently accredited us to BS18477 – for our inclusive service provision: the first gas network to secure this.

Our offering includes alternative heating and cooking provision in the unlikely event of gas supplies being interrupted; free alterations and gas meter relocation; and funded gas connections to help those living in fuel poverty. Additionally, our industry leading campaign saw us sign up more than 6,000 people to the Priority Service Register in 2019/20, making sure those most in need get the support they are entitled to from their utilities. Working with partners, including emergency services, charities and schools, we’re also raising awareness of carbon monoxide, and helping older people live independently for longer.

While writing our business plan for 2021-2026, we spoke to over 25,000 of our customers across Wales and south west England. Their view on our service was clear: we should continue to deliver our high standards of service, while doing more to support the most vulnerable in the communities we serve.

So that’s what we’re going to do.

  • Invest £750,000 every year to identify and support the most vulnerable, through a range of programmes that maximise income and help minimise bills and debt, alongside community support and CO safety campaigns
  • Between 2021 and 2026 we’ll be adding 12,000 people a year to the PSR, making sure they get support when they need it most
  • Continue to fund first time gas connections for those living in fuel poverty, helping them heat their home in a cheaper and increasingly green way
  • Invest £1m between 2021-2026 on innovative projects to support the most vulnerable, keeping up with the latest technology and process developments
  • Pledge to retain whole business accreditation against BS18477 for inclusive service provision, helping us to compare ourselves to top performing customer service companies so our customers know we are as good as we can be.

Our ambition is to deliver outstanding service to our customers and businesses by predicting, assessing and tailoring responses to customer needs.

And for customers who don’t consider themselves to be vulnerable, we’ll be evolving our customer experience in other ways:

  • Delivering great service will continue to be a fundamental part of our culture with colleagues focused on this from their very first day with us through induction, training, performance management and coaching.
  • We’ll adopt new, innovative technology so customers can speak to us when they want and how they want. This will include self-service options, Track My Engineer Tools so you know when we’ll be with you, and 24-hour access to our service.
  • Based on customer feedback, we’ll continue to invest in Customer Support Officers – colleagues that go door to door (socially distanced during the pandemic), answering questions and addressing customers concerns ahead of our work
  • In the unlikely event of an unplanned interruption to your gas supply, we’ll have it back on, on average, in under 10 hours
  • On average we’ll get to all gas emergencies in under an hour to keep you and your family safe.
  • Maintain our Institute of Customer Service ServiceMark so you can compare us to other companies performance
  • But we know that we don’t always get things right, so if you do have a complaint, we’ll resolve 85% of complaints in one day. That means totally resolved, with work done and you left happy, within 24 hours.

While customer service has always been a strong point for gas networks (when I joined the industry in 1991 the then British Gas were ranked the second best company for customer service after Marks and Spencer!) at Wales & West Utilities we’ve got a clear plan for the next five years and longer: going above and beyond what you expect and keeping pace with your rapidly increasing expectations. To make sure this continues, we’ll be setting up a Citizens Panel too – so if you think we could, or should improve our service even further, you’ll be able to have your say.

2020 has certainly been challenging, and Coronavirus is going to be with us for a while yet. But through continuous improvement and accountability, as the country recovers, we’ll aim to lead the way in customer service in and beyond our sector.

Nigel Winnan

Nigel Winnan is Wales & West Utilities Customer and Social Obligations Manager.