In the latest of Lexden’s Customer Experience Leader’s series, CX Consultant Christopher Brooks catches up with British Gas’ Richard Shenton to hear how they are switching on to CX.

rshentonRichard is responsible for Customer Experience and Continuous Improvement within part of the most popular of the Centrica brands. With experience in sectors including Home Shopping, Financial Services and Venture philanthropy, I spoke to Richard three years after joining British Gas, to hear how they are working hard to put customers at the top of the agenda today, and what CX advancements we can look forward to in the future.

Christopher: Let’s start at the beginning, how would you define customer experience?

Richard: For me, customer experience is the perception customers have during their interactions with an organisation. As they say, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”, and that’s what makes customer experience improvement so exciting.

Christopher: What would you say are the key priorities for any company serious about putting cus-tomers first in their organisation?

Richard: In my experience there are a few key areas for the organisation to focus on:

  1. It’s a cliché, but buy-in from the top is critical, otherwise it will be pushed aside as soon as more commercially focused priorities come along. Leaders also need to be prepared to make some priority calls when it comes to striking a balance between commercial vs. customer focused improvements.
  2. The organisation’s CX strategy needs to align with its commercial strategy, they should even influence each other at times. Far too many organisations have ambitions to ‘grow’ when they don’t have the ‘basic customer experiences’ in place for existing customers. If alignment is achieved, organisations can use the customer experience as a vehicle to grow.
  3. Even then a strategy is useless, unless people within the organisation believe in it and care about it succeeding.
  4. Finally, articulate the commercial benefit of improving the Customer Experience. This not only helps when making some of those though customer vs. commercial decisions, but shows that customer experience can actually be a commercial activity.

Christopher: 90% of CX programmes fail (source: Prof Dr Phil Klaus). Measuring the wrong things is cited as a key driver – what are your thoughts on this?

Richard: I can see that. Organisations tend to measure Net Promoter Score (NPS) without gaining any actionable insight to improve. The other pitfall tends to manifest itself in leadership chasing a number or target for NPS. Often you can’t even find the person who set it or what it means for the organisation if you reach it.

This ‘chasing a number’ can lead to tactical or superficial improvements that are not sustainable and don’t address the root-causes of problems. In my experience, defining the ‘full potential’ and working backwards is a much better approach than chasing a number that’s been plucked out of thin-air.

Christopher: You’ve been driving customer experience and continuous improvement at British Gas. That’s a broad brief. What does it involve?

Richard: Our approach covers four phases; ’Insight-Strategy-Delivery-Sustain’. It starts with the diagnosis phase using internal and external sources of insight. From this we can determine our ‘full potential’. Once we know where the improvement opportunities are and we size the benefit, then we articulate our aspirations and goals through our CX Strategy.

We then deliver those interventions by working with our Customer Journey teams to understand where gaps exist today. Then our Journey Design and Continuous Improvement teams to help us deliver the changes.

Christopher: How do you ensure improvements stick?

Richard: We ensure we get to the root cause. We use team based problem solving activity to achieve this. We recognise customer needs in each Journey through the development of what we call ‘Customer Journey Blueprints’. These help articulate how the customer experience should look, and how we want customers to feel as they interact with us.

Employee engagement is also a huge part of ensuring these changes stick, which is why we focus on ensuring behaviours encourage a customer-centric culture during any change activity.

Christopher: Despite their importance to us, utilities come pretty low on customer’s agenda until something goes wrong. Is it all about firefighting?

Richard: 

If we do our job well, then the customer should rarely need to speak to us. However, like any business we need to recognise when customers want to engage with us, and when they’re happy for things to just work in the background.

Making a regular payment to your energy supplier isn’t anything particular exciting, however, when the time comes to look for a better energy tariff, customers need all of our support, to help them get the best deal that suits their needs.

Christopher: Many organisations have set up group facilities to ensure best practice and consistency across various departments, products or even brands. How difficult is this to achieve and what are you doing at Centrica to make it work?
Richard:

It’s implicit within our org-design really. We’ve adopt a ‘Hubs and Spokes’ model, where best-practice and improvement approaches are supported by a centre of excellence, with the ownership sitting within the operational areas using common approaches and principles but tailored to the specific environment or culture.

 

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This year we’ve also started using the 5-Day SPRINT approach to designing customer journeys. This means we have our customers helping us design, test and refine ideas before we implement them.

 

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Christopher: CX is evolving fast, what do you think the major trends in your sector will be?

Richard: For the energy sector, the biggest evolution is in Smart Metering. It turns our business model on its head. We’re no longer reliant on customers to provide meter readings. This means that energy suppliers really need to re-evaluate their current customer experiences and back-office processes in place to execute them.

Christopher: There’s some great insights Richard, thank you. I’m sure anyone involved in CX will be inspired by what they’ve read. So my final question is, who inspires you in CX?

Richard:

It might sound trite to say Apple or Amazon, but take Amazon. They’ve cracked it with “One-Click”, “Subscribe and Save” and “Dash Buttons” – these all make customers lives easier – and ultimately lead to increased loyalty. Another brand that I admire is Ocado.

in-text-photo-3Christopher: Ocado doesn’t always come up so explain why they make it to the top of your list.

Richard: Well it’s what they do to make your life easier. Ocado drivers take time when they deliver your shopping, nothing is too much trouble so the experience becomes personal. They’ve even gone as far as re-designing their carrier bags – it’s the most over-engineered plastic bag that exists. Handles are bigger than usual, the actual bag is like a Tardis and they’ve colour coded them by type of goods i.e. Fridge, Cupboard etc. This is all done to benefit the customer, however it’s also designed to help storage and collection for the delivery driver en-route.

Ocado have also done a great job in thinking about their customers post introduction of the 5p carrier bag tax. Instead of offering a “bagless” delivery service they’ve opted to refund the cost if you return the bags to the driver at your next delivery.

Christopher: Richard, it’s been great speaking with you. There’s much that many will be able to take away and look to put to good practice straight away. Good luck with your future endeavors.

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About The Author

Director, Lexden, Customer Strategy Consultants

Christopher is an experienced senior agency and client-side marketing planner. Frustrated by pre-defined solutions, he created Lexden as an independent customer strategy consultancy to help clients drive improved profitability from the right solutions.