Echo's Product Director, Andy Mack, talks about complaints management in the UK water sector, and how investing in the right core systems can empower customer service teams to drive improvement...
Following the publication of the Consumer Council for Water (CCW) and Ofwat’s joint November report on complaints practices within the industry in England and Wales, there has been a real focus on complaints management within the water sector, and providers have been asked to submit action plans to improve sector standards on complaints management before March 2021.
Since November, 10 water companies have pledged to improve their complaints response times, many aiming to reduce the 10 working day sector standard response time to five, with others being even more ambitious. With the effectiveness of complaints management teams vital in achieving this, perhaps one of the most efficient enablers of positive complaints management is having the right systems in place, both for handling any complaints that come through, and for preventing them in the first place.
In the water sector, the complaints we see most regularly relate either to billing or to supply and operations. With the latter, which may be about late appointments or quality of work, for example, there can be a real disconnect between front and back-office teams due to disparate systems or software, slowing down complaints processes and causing customer frustration.
Choosing to implement an efficient and integrated system can not only minimise the response time on complaints, but also help companies meet the other recommendations set out in the CCW and Ofwat report. Let’s take a look at the benefits of integrated technology and how it could raise standards throughout the water sector.
The power of rich, seamless data
Robust case management functionality is key within software and systems to limit manual work, time-consuming hand-offs and a lack of visibility between customer-facing retail teams and operational teams working with differing software, causing hold-ups which prolong resolutions.
One solution could be a one platform approach to complaints management, with a single data source for integrated operational management and retail operations. Downstream information is then easily available to customer service agents, who can access all the information they need to support customers when a complaint is raised. With fewer hand-offs, less manual work and more visibility, the complaints procedure will become significantly more streamlined for customers.
As well as this, customer service agents will be empowered when handling complaints, as all the information they need is easy to obtain through the system. By giving customer service teams the right data, they can either respond quickly at the first point of contact or even prevent a complaint all together.
A single platform developer ecosystem such as Salesforce can support this efficient flow of data between customer service and operations. Various Salesforce-native applications can be implemented together with a single data source, this is one of the key reasons we decided to build our water billing software Aptumo on the Salesforce platform, to open up a world of integration-free possibilities for water companies across the complete core system infrastructure.
Information at your fingertips – powerful reporting, analytics and AI
A key recommendation by CCW and Ofwat is for companies to make better use of their data. By ensuring their software has powerful and customizable reporting, analytic and artificial intelligence (AI) features, water companies can easily interrogate the plethora of information which is often locked deep within systems.
This can help reveal trends in the complaints journey and allow providers to identify bottlenecks in the process, or where things are going wrong. From this, root cause analysis can be carried out to help remove current hold-ups and increase customer satisfaction. Trend data can also reveal changes in customer behaviour and sentiment which, when combined with AI, can be used to proactively identify trends so that managers can put measures in place before complaints are made.
The powerful data supplied by the one-platform approach can help support companies in achieving CCW and Ofwat’s recommendation to improve understanding the satisfaction of complainants. Water companies who implement Aptumo can, using the wider Salesforce ecosystem, plug customer satisfaction (CSAT) native software for example directly into billing and CRM with no integration. Meaning CSAT is seamlessly integrated and augmented across all channels.
Supporting the experience of vulnerable customers
Embedding external data sources into a system with powerful reporting capabilities alongside the use of a broad range of vulnerability indicators can help water companies look for trends and changes across a broad range of vulnerabilities. Complaints handling may need to be tailored or adjusted to help best support different vulnerable groups, and by using rich system reporting and insight together with vulnerability flags, water companies can better understand experiences for different groups and look to tailor processes and service to serve different attributes of vulnerability.
Driving efficiency and agility
Water providers may be asking the question: “Can’t an enterprise resource planning (ERP) approach achieve better complaints management processes?”. The answer is yes, it can, but it is costly and lacks the inherent flexibility and agility of a single platform ecosystem. ERP demands long, onerous implementation and integration programmes, coupled with the complexity of trying to make on-going change as customer expectations evolve.
The new era of platform ecosystems removes the need for these painful procedures and empowers water companies to make their own changes quickly and easily, removing the reliance on software provider-led change and helping them stay ahead of customer and market needs.
Ultimately, for water companies to improve their complaint handlings procedures, learn from complaints and drive service improvement, they should focus on capturing as much information as possible within a single system. Better data creates better insight so that water companies can review their current operating procedures and adjust systems, team knowledge, skills and empowerment to achieve outstanding complaints management.
Investing in the right technology to optimise performance will not only drive consistency between field operations and customer service teams but also make it much simpler for water providers to align themselves with CCW and Ofwat’s recommendations.
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