npower’s Head of Customer Experience explains how customers are taking centre stage in the business
The utility sector has been through some tough times, with press scrutiny, regulatory pressure and customers who are starting to vote with their feet, but despite this backdrop npower, spearheaded by Kelly Iles (Head of Customer Experience), is determined to embed a customer first strategy in order to gain back the trust of customers in the energy sector.
Christopher Brooks, Managing Director from Lexden Customer Strategy Consultants caught up with Kelly to find out just what npower has in store for its customers.
Christopher: You’ve been with npower since 2012. It’s a sector which is striving to provide better customer experience and has a way to go in this space. As head of customer experience at npower, what are your key responsibilities in driving npower’s customer agenda forward?
We have come a long way, npower has put a lot of focus and effort into making it better for our customers but it’s fair to say there’s still much more work to do. Our mission to achieve this should never stop. My team’s remit is to be the voice of the customer, championing what they want, need and deserve. I have the accountability and authority to set our customer experience improvement agenda which for us right now is getting back to the basics and delivering the energy experience that customers expect. This means addressing core processes, people capability, systems, communications as well as changing the culture of the organisation. It’s a pretty full on role!
Christopher: Already I can tell you are clearly passionate about customer experience, what do you find most interesting about CX?
I love the fact that CX touches every facet of the business. There are no hiding places; all areas of the business are involved in the delivery of a seamless experience and to make it work, activities need to bring business and functional silo’s together, which has always been a management challenge.
Christopher: So what is your ‘customer first’ ambition for the company?
We’ve only been serious about building CX capability in the last 3 years. It requires a wholesale business transformation and we continue to move through the different stages of maturity. Whilst this started as a programme ultimately building an enduring capability and culture as well as a well-recognised discipline is our aim.
The core stages are; 1) building a customer insight capability – to understand the issues are customers experience and to measure our progress and performance, 2) map the customer journey to understand when, how and why these issues occur, 3) build and execute an effective improvement plan and finally, 4) embed the methodology, approach, ethos, and culture so that it becomes everyone’s responsibility. Christopher: What’s driving CX up the utility sector’s agenda?
CX has become a core priority across the entire sector. As choice widens, customers become less inert this results in, energy providers have margins being squeezed and commoditisation increased, however for sustainable growth pricing can’t be the only answer. As a result providers are recognising that offering a good service may mean customers are less likely to shop around and might move away from choosing their provider based solely upon price.
Ultimately retention of customers becomes key and delivering a great experience will help to build long standing sustainable customer relationships. Christopher: In the insurance sector the metric is ‘effort’. In a sector such as utility which is very much an essential service, what are the priority areas of CX improvement to impress customers?
Opportunities to delight and impress customers are far less than in other sectors such as retailers. Like insurance firms, the key is to make it as easy as possible for customers to do business with us, effortless in fact. Developments such as SMART and the introduction of digital technology for example our new energy app allows our customers to track usage, manage their energy usage and ultimately keep costs as low as possible. For us it gives an opportunity to build engagement with our customers as well as giving us data that can be used to build a better picture of our customers upon which to offer more targeted products and services.
Christopher: It sounds as if there is much going on, can you give me an example of a one of those improvements made for customers?
Listening to our customers we understood the anxiety that a house move creates. During any home move, Customers have lots of other things to sort. Managing their change of energy to their new property is the least of their priorities. as well as their energy. Our processes made customers contact us at a time suitable to us and we were only prepared to process Home moves by our telephone channel. Ultimately we quickly realised we could do a lot to make this process much less effort and one less thing to worry about at the time of the move. As a result we’ve digitised the whole journey and removed the restrictive contact window so that customers can inform us of their home move when it suits them. At the same time we built key checkpoints so we are able to reassure the customer that everything is going through as planned.
Christopher: You’ve mentioned a number of customer improvements being made. Where do the drivers for improvement come from?
Our Voice of the Customer programme is complimented by our Voice of the People and Voice of the Process programmes. This gives us a complete view on what’s happening to both our customers, our people and why. By bringing together multiple data sources and developing insight, we are able to clearly see the priority customer issues that need to be addressed. Our focus is on what matters to the customer.
Christopher: What are the contributors to your CX programme you value the most?
There are many areas, but three I’ll highlight. Firstly, it needs the support and buyin from the snr leadership team which will ensure that CX remains on the agenda. The leadership team need to take ownership, set the agenda and ensure followership. Secondly, our people on the ground. These are the team that deliver the experience to the customer day in, day out. They also know what the issues are and often how to fix them. Listening, empowering and giving them the accountability to make a difference for customers is vital.
Finally, the ability to upskill and embed CX capability into the DNA of the organisation. For this I look to my team who have the right skills and expertise to work across the business and define what good looks like. This could be practically how you delivery change in a customer centric way right through to building the right operational lead metrics to monitor and evaluate CX change.
Christopher: Are you pleased with the progress you are making?
We’ve come a long way but CX isn’t a project, it doesn’t stop. There is always a better way to serve the customer. Real-time feedback as a measure shows the power of ‘in the moment’ feedback. It gives you the opportunity to address a poor experience and to build advocacy through heroic recovery activity. To take a customer whose expectations haven’t been met and then exceed offersa powerful opportunity to build loyalty.
Christopher: Who do you look to for customer first thinking inspiration?
For me, I think those companies who just make the whole interaction effortless impress me the most. The AA breakdown service – I was on my own when I found myself stuck on a side of a road, they asked me specifically whether I was accompanied and then applied a very targeted to experience based upon my situation; text updates to manage what’s going on and even a message to help me recognise the recovery vehicle (driver flicking his lights)importantly it was executed perfectly and against the expectations met.
Christopher: CX is evolving fast, what do you think the major trends in your sector will be?
The winners in the industry will be those who get the basics right, make interacting with the company seamless and then ongoing, build a proactive relationship with the customer that he or she values. Using data and insight will be key so we can put customers back in control. Ultimately, helping them to manage their energy more effectively.
Christopher: it’s been so insightful, your passion is infectious and your expertise evident. So how could you help an organisation just waking up to the potential of customer experience?
Okay, so I’d have to say strong leadership is key. It can get ugly and you need to be prepared to go through the journey. Leaders need to believe and recognise the phases you will go through. They will also help ensure you get your message out there in the organisation. Also it takes time – there are no short cuts. Many organisations transformation programmes can take up to 10 years. Perhaps most important of all, be relentless in your quest. Never give up. It’shard work but the rewards are great.
Christopher: Kelly that’s great. I’ve seen you at the CX Awards, so you are obviously doing the right things. It’s been a pleasure hearing more about where you’ve come from and where you are going. All the best with your mission. Thank you.