Customer-first approach is more efficient for water businesses

Posted 9 November 2016

The rise of customer-centricity offers water businesses an opportunity to use customer feedback data to their advantage, with one major utility scanning hundreds of thousands of customer service calls for hidden insight.

Sydney Water Customer and Business Experience Platforms Executive Paul Freeman said customer demands aren’t a burden if you approach the information as data to be utilised. 

“As we grow our customer-centricity capability … we'll build the capability to be more agile and respond efficiently so [customer service demands] aren't an increasing cost, but rather they drive costs down and drive efficiencies,” Freeman said.

Freeman was speaking alongside his two fellow luminaries – Dr Nanda Altavilla and Simon Thorn – at last week's Legends of Water event.

He said experimentation and insight is needed to meet customer demands into the future.

“I think we're becoming more agile, less prescriptive and trying to be more dynamic in reflecting what we understand about customers ... talking to them more regularly and then trying to turn that into business opportunity,” Freeman said.

“We trial a few things with a few customers to see whether they like it or not, rather than spending a lot of money building a you-beaut system that we find they really don't like or is really difficult for them to use.”

For instance, over the past 12 months, Sydney Water has been running pilot programs mining some of the 700,000-odd customer service phone conversations it records each year.

“We can digitise calls and run them through various algorithms to pull out patterns, understandings and insights that we couldn't get,” Freeman said.

“From the ability to assess the tone of the conversations … we've been able to look at that and use that as feedback into coaching our operators to be more empathetic.”

Sydney Water has also been drawing on the expertise of international behavioural psychology experts to improve communication, Freeman said.

“We tapped into that capability to look at things like how we present a policy statement to our customers [so] that it gives them clarity around why we need a policy and how they could help us … rather than a policy being a policing, bureaucratic-type statement of 'thou shan't do these things',” he said.

While shifting to a customer-centric business model may seem like a lot more work, it's actually a great vote of confidence in the industry, Freeman said.

“If you look at it from a customer perspective you'd say to yourself – 'hang on, if they weren't delivering my water, if it wasn't reliable, or I had questions about its safety … then I wouldn't care what my experience was when I picked up the telephone,” he said.

“It's a bit like airline passengers commenting on in-flight entertainment when they were 30,000 feet in the air.

“Isn't it great that they can complain about that and they're not worried that the plane is not going to get from A to B?”