Management of the ‘customer experience’ has swiftly developed into a mainstream role in British business. Jonathan Seal, Strategic Director at User Experience experts Mando Group examines the Utility sector’s response to the customer experience challenge.

Focusing on the customer is hardly a new phenomenon. Businesses have been operating under the conviction that the customer is always right since the slogan was coined by Harry Selfridge in the early 1900s.

What has changed – in a way that would have been unimaginable to the early retail pioneers – is the sheer variety of touch-points that now exist between today’s businesses and customers. Digital devices provide an anytime, anywhere communication platform and the customer mindset has developed in line with this 24/7 accessibility. 

Customer experience – the picture now
So, is the utilities sector keeping up with these levels of customer service and demand? Is the customer experience of strategic interest to decision-makers within leading utilities companies?

Mando has investigated further, looking at the proliferation of senior roles dedicated to ‘Customer Experience’ by industry sector. The research identified the top-twenty companies in each sector, establishing whether these companies have a member of staff with ‘Customer Experience’ in the job title and, if so, establishing the seniority of that role. 

The findings reveal that management of the ‘customer experience’ is now very much a mainstream role in British business.

On average, across the sectors studied, a senior-level ‘Customer Experience’ position exists at 69% of businesses. Far from being a position embraced by only a few pioneer organisations, ‘Customer Experience’ is a focus for the majority of leading British firms.

Operational level focus
According to Ofgem, yearly churn rates are around 15% in the domestic utility industry. Encouraged by the regulator, competition in the market is reasonably healthy, and the obvious reason for switching supplier is price. However, poor customer service remains a contributory factor – a quick search of any supplier’s name on social media will reveal countless examples of service woe.

Interestingly, the industry’s response appears weighted at operational level, with the sector having one of the highest percentages of customer experience management and senior management roles.  This current lack of board-level strategic focus is surprising given the challenges facing an industry with a less than glowing reputation amongst the public.

Best practice
Undoubtedly, British businesses are devoting serious attention to the customer experience and structuring their organisations accordingly. There is no one-size fits all approach – projects and priorities will differ by sector, and by individual company. But certainly, forward-thinking businesses are recognising the benefit of partnering with dedicated customer experience experts in order to keep abreast of fast-evolving techniques.

So what does best practice look like in relation to customer experience? In very simple terms, a great customer experience increases customer satisfaction, loyalty, and ultimately business success. Best practice means delivering engaging, innovative and motivating solutions tailored specifically to the needs of the customer. 

So, for example, a utilities company might want to significantly boost customer service quality by developing a ‘My Account’ portal which enables customers to view current and historical payments, set up and amend direct debits, switch to paperless billing, report faults and more.  The key is developing this functionality around the customers’ own terms, delivering 24/7 accessibility and providing an interface that is consistent across all devices. The fact that utilities are a heavily regulated sector places further power in the hands of the consumer, requiring businesses to operate with particular attention to compliance and performance. The challenge is to be bright and innovative within this closely monitored regulatory environment.

Research is the foundation that any leading-edge customer experience rests on.  Only through in-depth research can insights into customer’s behaviours, attitudes and expectations be uncovered.  This critical information is then used to formulate strategies that take the customer experience above and beyond their expectations.

One particularly innovative technique is Experience Mapping.  In order for information architects and designers to think like end users, a number of personas are created which detail different types of users, investigating why they are coming to the site, how Internet savvy they are and more. A number of ‘use cases’ are then created (e.g. finding a key piece of information) with the aim of ensuring that the different personas can effortlessly complete the use cases.

Mapping this process out visually helps solution architects to see the process flow and identify where there is interaction with technology. Once a user’s digital interaction is fully understood consultants then develop ‘experience maps’ which provide a powerful visual tool documenting the user’s end-to-end experience. The map includes such detail as the user’s interaction with a solution (or different solutions); the emotions that are in play throughout their experience; the touch points; the potential risks, pain points and opportunities presented throughout. The result is an incredibly detailed insight into the key components that any future solution would need to address.

Experience counts
The sheer variety of digital devices, and their constant connectivity, is challenging businesses to re-evaluate the way in which they serve customers.  Today’s customer is used to driving the conversation and is no longer happy to compromise.  A delightful customer experience is demanded, one which delivers a level of service tailored specifically towards the need of the consumer.

Research clearly shows that a senior-level focus on managing the customer experience is now mainstream in British business.  The utilities sector is amongst the front-runners, although the role is yet to truly permeate at board-level.

The leading players are working with expert third-party partners in order to ensure that solutions are developed using the very latest research and evaluation techniques.  There is clear recognition of the serious pitfalls of overlooking this developing business function – and the huge potential in getting the customer experience right.

Mando Group

0845 619 5205