Utility and power companies, which have largely operated as monopolies, have traditionally not had to focus on developing strong customer relationships. In fact, a cross-industry customer experience (CX) study conducted across 10,000 customers found that these companies often received ‘poor’ ratings(1). However, when a more recent 2020 study asked around 100 utility company executives what they saw as upcoming and impactful trends in the industry, they identified improved customer engagement and analytics(2). As the industry started to recognize, sustained inadequate CX can result in financial costs. For example, Scottish Power, a U.K. utility company, was fined £18 million ($12 million) for poor customer service in 20163. Now, with the landscape changing and with more competition emerging, building and sustaining customer loyalty has become more important than ever.
Washington Gas, a regulated public utility serving over 1.2 million customers in the Mid-Atlantic region, realized that to maintain its rank as one of the top gas utilities (per J.D. Power and Cogent), it needed to improve communication with customers and develop more efficient processes to reduce customer effort(4)(5). After an internal comprehensive review of operational processes and customer experience drivers, it decided to focus on implementing proactive communication strategies to notify customers of scheduled appointments, outage notifications and internal broadcast messages. Additionally, it decided to migrate its annual customer satisfaction survey to one surveying customers within 24-72 hours of each interaction. After a competitive bid process, SkyCreek was selected to implement its eContact platform to achieve these goals.
SkyCreek’s eContact appointment reminder and survey modules were implemented from the requirements-definition stage to end-user training. During the requirements-definition process, SkyCreek determined that incidents where technicians were unable to gain access to equipment due to the customer not being present for the appointment represented a major issue, and one that had a significant impact on productivity and additional costs. Using eContact’s appointment reminder module, customers could be contacted 1-2 days prior to their scheduled appointments to confirm whether they would be available or to be transferred to a service representative to reschedule. For customers who did not answer calls, messages were left requesting call backs to confirm scheduled appointments. An additional day-of appointment reminder message provided the date and time of the appointment and the address where the service would be performed.
Prior to implementing SkyCreek’s eContact survey module, an annual paper-based survey was used to gather customer feedback. Each year the company mailed over 15,000 surveys to customers — and received 2,000 responses, a response rate of 13% at a cost of nearly $40 million. This slow, cumbersome survey distribution and manual analysis process hindered the utility company’s ability to make meaningful change based on customer feedback. In addition, the company could not gain specific insight on how company field technicians and contractors were performing.
The revamped feedback gathering process features a brief, automated customer survey delivered via telephone, email, or SMS within one to three days after an interaction with a field technician. Survey results are available to field operation stakeholders through the eTouchPoint results portal, and alerts are emailed immediately when customers respond that issues are unresolved or that they are dissatisfied overall. Additionally, customers have the option of leaving voice comments that are reviewed, rated and transcribed (IVR only) by SkyCreek’s transcription team. This Voice of the Customer (VOC) feedback is especially useful for recognizing technicians who exceed customer expectations and for coaching technicians on process gaps and deficiencies.
The survey also contains questions focused on two proven CX metrics:
- Customer Effort Score (CES): a metric that evaluates how much effort a customer needs to expend during a transaction.
- Overall Customer Satisfaction (CSAT): a metric that assesses customers’ overall satisfaction with a service or product.
With these metrics, Washington Gas can now better understand how to make visits more effective for customers and gauge the potential loyalty of their customer base. This is critical, as Harvard Business Review reported that lower customer effort was linked to increased customer loyalty(6). Similarly, IPSOS Loyalty found that customers who expended higher levels of effort were more likely to leave a brand or complain about it on social media(7).
With SkyCreek’s support and eContact’s appointment reminder and survey modules, Washington Gas has achieved the following:
- 95% of customers are reached through the automated appointment reminder process, with over 60% of customers taking action to confirm, cancel or reschedule their appointments.
- A 15%-29% reduction in CGAs, resulting in 400% ROI based on a savings of $100-$150 per CGA eliminated.
- A 145% increase in the number of customers being surveyed and a 64% increase in the survey-response rate.
- Customer satisfaction has become a key metric on corporate and contractor scorecards, with results used to determine bonus structure, satisfy regulatory requirements, mitigate complaints and demonstrate that the utility is meeting or exceeding customer expectations when negotiating rate increases.
- Increased transparency of results across the organization has enabled stakeholders to identify process gaps and deficiencies.
Washington Gas, leveraging SkyCreek’s eContact platform, is much better equipped at understanding and supporting their customers, thereby building stronger brand loyalty while also seeing cost savings!
1 Temkin, Bruce, “Report: 2015 Temkin Experience Ratings.” (March 8, 2016)
2 Supkar, Kasturika. 2019. “Transforming Customer Experience in the Utilities Industry.” Infosys.
3 Monaghan, Angela. 2016. “Scottish Power fined £18M for poor customer service.”The Guardian.
4 J.D. Power. 2020. “Despite Challenges of 2020, Gas Utility Business Satisfaction Increases, J.D. Power Finds.”
5 Washington Gas. 2019. “Washington Gas Earns Most Trusted Brand for Third Consecutive Year”.
6 Dixon, Matthews, et. al, “Stop Trying to Delight Your Customers,” (July-August 2010)
7 Damais, Jean-Francois, “Are Your Customers Working Too Hard?” (February 2016)
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