UK Power Networks, a shining example of great customer experience
Just ask yourself, when was the last time you and your partner got up on a Saturday morning and said, “let’s go and check out power network companies.” No, me either. But when the power goes out, maybe we wished we had. Just to be clear, when this happens it’s not your energy supplier that has to fix this, but one of eight distribution companies across the UK that have responsibility for managing and maintaining the electricity supply to our homes and businesses.
And, like the water companies we have no choice in who provides this service to us. However, the quality of service and the customer experience (CX) we receive is vastly different and significantly better than from those organisations busy polluting our rivers and seas and spewing out large dividends to offshore companies and pension plans.
I’m fortunate to live in an area served by the very best of these, UK Power Networks (UKPN), who maintain the electricity networks across London, the Southeast and East of England. And that’s not just my opinion. UKPN has won numerous awards for customer service, including the European Contact Centre and Customer Service Awards, (ECCSA) for Best Large Contact Centre. They also feature highly for employee engagement, and for being Britain’s Most Admired Company for the Energy Distribution and Supply sector. There are too many more to mention here but isn’t it amazing that a company you only contact when something has gone wrong, are so highly regarded. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if our train companies, banks, retailers, and telcos were even half as good?
Anyone that’s followed my various musings (or rants!) about customer experience over the years or has read my book, will know that I put a lot of faith in the Four Principles of Customer experience, Culture, Communication, Commitment and Community, that I introduced several years ago. And while I can take no credit for the success that UKPN has had, it was gratifying to be able to see where elements of these principles have guided UKPN in their journey to being the Institute of Customer Service (ICS) number One ranked customer service provider in the UK.
I was keen to find out more and recently I was fortunate to meet many of the team and I spent some quality time with Alex Williams, Head of Contact Centres, who shared many of the reasons for their success. I’ve taken the liberty of aligning many of the key elements of their CX program with the Four Principles. While I can’t do justice to their approach in a relatively short article, I’ll hope to hit the high notes that reflect the heights that the team reaches to deliver consistently great customer experiences.
As with many successful organisations a great CX program generally has an enviable and unique culture that is a foundational component. For UKPN this is demonstrated in four key words that encapsulate their culture.
They LISTEN, via open and honest staff forums that encourage team representatives to share experiences, provide feedback and influence future policies and procedures.
They ENGAGE via frequent and inclusive “all hands” roadshows where information on current issues and active listening by management are key ingredients to help staff to provide exemplary support to customers and other colleagues.
They ACT on the feedback received via their “Make It Easier” project, that involves making staff driven operational, cultural and technology changes to improve customer and colleagues’ lives.
They CELEBRATE their success via their “Living Our Values” recognition and reward scheme which are presented to worthy winners on their Annual Awards night.
They complement this approach with Learning and Development opportunities, that allows for internal upward movement and career development. They also have a well-designed and generous resource planning policy and a workplace environment that creates a strong sense of wellbeing and diversity. Any one of their initiatives are to be commended, but in their totality clearly create a culture worth celebrating. It’s a great place to work as reflected in their Employer of Choice status as well as scoring highly in the key ICS Customer Satisfaction Index dimensions that place high value on Experience, Complaint Handling, Customer Ethos Emotional Connection and Ethics
When I think of communication, I look at how both external (customers) and internal (colleagues) communications are handled, and UKPN consistently score well in both areas. As I mentioned I’m sometimes on the receiving end of UKPN communications which are timely, accurate, and as comprehensive as the situation will allow. Typically, if there is an outage customers want to know as quickly and proactively as possible what’s happening and generally, they are updated within minutes via the website, and, as I’m registered with them, I also get an SMS with as much detail as I need. This will include the area of the outage, the number of homes affected and the Estimated Time of Restoration (ETR). While this last piece of information is subject to the team getting onsite, evaluating the issue, and completing a repair, it’s usually pretty accurate and often, the ETR is sooner than predicted. This isn’t just a one-time communication as they continually provide updates on the situation and once it’s fixed there is usually a further message from one of the team, including their name, apologising, and thanking us for our patience. Could you imagine a train operating company doing that. No neither can I!
This level of customer care is made possible by the internal comms that take place between the field and the contact centre and any other part of the business, that play a key role in consistently delivering this level of service. This is further exemplified by the specialists in the Customer Service team who communicate with vulnerable customers to provide additional support and guidance to ensure that their needs are well looked after.
Within the Contact Centre the teams use a variety of communication channels and methodologies which include daily huddles, managers messages, key video comms, weekly briefings, monthly team meetings, six monthly roadshows and a six monthly newsletter. They blend this with a daily evaluation of how their actions on the day influenced the telephony and customer satisfaction performance to ensure that they keep on top of issues, communicate externally and internally.
For UKPN proactivity is the key to successful communication and communicating with customers and colleagues is very much dependent on a company having an open and honest communication policy that builds trust and provides reinforcement for employees to act with integrity and compassion in those critical moments of truth that can define a great customer experience.
Getting the culture right is a key cornerstone in the foundations of customer experience, but unless and until there is commitment throughout the company, it won’t have the staying power or game changing influence on the company’s DNA to ensure that customer experience is a living, breathing organism and not just an empty promise or a marketing slogan. As with culture, senior executive ownership, on an on-going and visibly participatory basis, is a vital element in demonstrating commitment. The unique nature of their businesses means that UKPN never really knows exactly when or where a power outage or other problem will happen. While keeping a close eye on the weather, with information constantly fed to their control centre, it’s still something that can’t be accurately predicted. There is a huge uplift in customer contacts during major weather events and if a major outage occurs it’s all hands to the pump and everyone, including the senior team, puts on a headset and answers phones or responds to emails. In a normal day UKPN is available 24/7 to help anyone who has a power issue, and during Storm Eunice in February 2022 call rates increased by 1300%! On one day they handled 24,000 calls. They may also don some nifty safety gear and do whatever it takes to get power back on as quickly as possible. That’s real Commitment!
In customer experience terms, community resides comfortably and symbiotically with the other three principles. It is dependent on intertwining and bringing together the different parts of an organization to agree common goals, and ways of achieving them, in a spirit of cooperation and collaboration. When a business is successful in creating this internal spirit of community, then extending it to customers, partners and the wider geographic community just feels like a natural and rewarding thing to do. This can’t be mandated, or forced on people and UKPN is a shining example of what happens when people come together for the common good.
While community can be measured in myriad ways, the stats that reflect this for UKPN include being in the top 5 of the Best Companies to Work for, an extremely low absence level and an equally high retention rate. UKPN is certainly more than just a place to go to work. I’ve been fortunate to meet many of the team and spend time in their Ipswich contact centre, where the spirit of community is there for all to see and magically and consistently finds its way down the phone lines, over the internet and other communication channels to reassure and comfort customers and keep colleagues engaged and connected.
When I look at these the power of these four principles, both individually and in combination, I see that they are founded on deep, basic truths that have broad and enduring applications. When integrated into our daily lives they provide a context and a framework that can mobilize people to develop the understanding, skills, and patience to handle almost any situation.
This is what UKPN achieve every day, and for its customer and colleagues, it really is Power to the People!