Water UK EventsActive Customer Engagement 2013

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Water UK hosted its fourth innovation hub on Wednesday 19 June in London with 80 attendees from the industry and its stakeholder community.

DOWNLOAD: Active Customer Engagement Innovation Hub Report

With customers playing a key role in the next price review and a major focus for companies going forward, the day examined customer engagement and the innovative practices companies need to consider to engage with their business and residential customers now and in the future.

Water UK's innovation hub has been specifically developed to be engaging, informal and interactive. The three sessions covered the why, how and what next of customer engagement and were led by Matthew Wright, CEO of Southern Water, Peter Simpson, Managing Director, Anglian Water Services and Chris Jones, Finance Director and soon to be Managing Director of Dwr Cymru Welsh Water. Each session had a different format: discussion panel, roundtable discussion and external perspectives showcase, the variety ensured delegates got the most value out of the day with as much in-depth discussion as possible.

One of the key messages from the day was that companies have to do things differently to gain legitimacy. Many industries have to address the issue of legitimacy, it is not new. Customers are saying they want to talk more to the companies, they want better information and advice and more transparency. The silent service ethos no longer serves the industry well and companies can't suddenly start to communicate in a crisis, communication needs to be on-going and customers want to be consulted with and informed at the earliest stages. This brings benefits for both customers and the companies in gaining greater support for change or new initiatives. Examples demonstrated were Southern Water's Universal Metering Programme and Anglian Water's Keep it Clear campaign.

It was recognised that partners help build trust and legitimacy. Many companies spoke of their partnerships, whether it be with NGOs, local authorities, regulators, service suppliers- building and maintaining relationships with all stakeholders will not only help ensure a constructive response in negative situations but in working together real change can be achieved.

Furthermore, companies need to work with, and be challenged by, their business customers to think innovatively and look for value added services. This will help differentiate from the competition and provide a higher quality of service. EDF Energy brought their perspectives from the highly competitive energy sector and how their business customers have helped them develop their offering.

The customer experience needs to be considered in the round and the various channels should be integrated to understand the customer better and offer a more seamless journey. Online support deals with many day to day, self-service issues, but when a customer contacts the call centre it can be more complicated, more emotional, so companies need to better equip their teams and develop their skills base to not just offer technical expertise but more importantly, emotional intelligence. Bank of America talked about how they have responded to the changing nature of their customer contacts to the call centre. Beyond this, ownership of the customer experience needs to shift from the contact centre to the boardroom.

Welsh Water has recognised the need to widen their culture by bringing in new people from other sectors like retail and the financial services. Creating the right internal culture with new perspectives and skills will better prepare companies to respond to the challenges that competition will bring.

The industry clearly recognises that it has to engage more, not just because the quality of engagement will be assessed by the regulator but because customer perception has changed so considerably. If companies don't engage they will be left behind, more than that, they need to go beyond the minimum standards. The point was well made that companies cannot simply follow the lead of the regulator and must show leadership in understanding customer priorities through an approach that is tailored and best suits their customers.

A more detailed report will be made available to attendees from the day at the end of July. If you are interested in receiving this report, please contact the Water UK events team events@water.org.uk

Click here to access the delegate pack

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