In episode 15 of the CX Appeal podcast, Louise Wright gets the scoop on the CX Utilities Forum in London from MATS Account Director Natalie Foland.

You can listen to this episode in full here.

Louise: Hi Natalie

Natalie: Hello Louise

Louise: It’s the first time on the podcast for you isn’t it? Thanks for agreeing to have a chat. Do you want to start by introducing yourself?

Natalie: Thank you for inviting me! I’ve been in the industry for around 20 years, working with the likes of SAP and Oracle. In fact, I spent many years working for Oracle in their CX Consulting Practice. I’m currently in the MATS sales team as an Account Director, responsible for utilities practice in the UK and Ireland.

Louise: That’s a great background! So, you’ve spent the last few days in London at the CX Utilities Forum. Can you tell us more about the event? What did it centre on?

Natalie: Yes absolutely. It was a great two days, there were around 80-100 delegates there. The theme was Customer Experience (CX), what challenges utility companies are facing, and how to embrace innovation to meet the evolving need of the customer. There was also a focus on the technology needed to provide good CX within the industry. It was very well attended, with most attendees having CX as their main focus within their job roles, such as Customer Experience Managers, Digital Transformation Managers etc., it was a very well represented event.

Louise: We’ve touched on this before, that CX isn’t an obvious priority for the utilities sector – particularly within the power and water industries – as they have the monopoly. It really is a bit of a postcode lottery depending on where you live, you need sign up with whoever supplies that area. So why is there a big focus on CX?

Natalie: That’s a good question, and a lot of people are asking the same. Firstly, regulation is driving a force, CX will soon be measured and monitored differently. It’s included in the water industry business plan for next 5 years – known as the PR19. The way their CX is going to be measured has changed. They’re moving from a Service Incentive Mechanism (SIM), to a CMEX – customer experience mechanism. The change means they’re now going to be scored against and compared to other industries, whereas before they were only scored against themselves.

The second reason is customer expectation, which is driven by likes of John Lewis, Amazon etc. This means being able to self-serve, with customers expecting to do things themselves if they like to – but with the ability to still call upon someone [human] to offer them the service as and when needed if they want.

Realistically, why might someone call a water company? The truth is that it’s not usually during the best moments in someone’s life [maybe stressful]. So, there’s a need to ensure it’s a more seamless and enjoyable journey. It’s most certainly being bought about by other industries.

Louise: Yes, it’s interesting that as consumers we’re not focused on what’s going on in particular industries as such, we actually just want the same level of experience regardless of whether we’re talking to a water company, a High street retailer or any other brand. It must have been interesting hearing about how the water and energy companies are getting on board with that.

Going back to the event, what were your favourite keynotes/presentations?

Natalie: That’s a tough question! The most interesting one – with my favourite quote of the day, a PwC quote – was delivered by Liam Mulholland, former Director of Customer Services for Northern Ireland Water. In a survey of 115 utility companies everybody acknowledged that speed is everything when it comes to transformation – none of the CEOs disagreed. When they were asked if they thought they were ready for transformation as an industry, 82% said ‘absolutely no’, they weren’t ready. It was quite shocking.

What was worse, when asked whether they thought they’d be ready by 2020 – which is when the water industry will start to be measured on this – only 56% they thought they’d be ready.

So, the theme of the day was ‘how are we going to achieve that?’

Especially when margins are being squeezed and they need to give better a better customer experience. These companies need transformation. A lot of them are running on legacy systems, like water companies, and most of them have a lot of silos internally. It’s a big cultural challenge.

We also heard from the Director of Transformation at SSE on transforming utilities to meet the evolving need of the future energy customer, and what that customer looks like, which was interesting.

There were regulators there too, for example Ofwat, talking about improving customer culture and social purpose. Which became a theme throughout the day, along with priority customers and vulnerable customers, the customer journey and what can be done to make that service equal for all.

There was a great presentation from the former Customer Service Director of Northern Ireland Water all about employee experience, transforming from the inside out. Happy employee = a happy company and happy customers.

All of the presentations over the 2 days were great.

Louise: And of course, we also had Netcall’s very own CTO Richard Farrell presenting there.

Natalie: Yes we did!

We spent about an hour doing round tables, we had 6 round tables in the end.

We discussed what was getting in the way of delivering great CX, and we found there are 3 main problem areas.

  1. Legacy systems. Sometimes it’s down to the merging of companies, and/or that there’s been a lot of money invested in those systems.
  2. The siloed nature of the organisations. If you think about the different departments for example, as a customer you need to call one team for a change of address, another team for a bereavement and a different one for a new connection. Very often these systems don’t talk to each other at all, which hinders CX.
  3. Lack of employee empowerment. This is surrounding the culture of organisations and their employee engagement. If we look at the more successful companies, for example Virgin, their company mantra is happy employees = happy customers = profit. This starts very much with the employees. As customers ourselves, we know that if we call a contact centre and the person on the end is happy, it comes across! But staff need to be given the systems they require in order to do their job properly.

Louise: That’s interesting, it’s not too dissimilar to the challenges expressed by our customers from other industries. They are just exaggerated due to the nature of the industry. Did anyone say what was working in their toolkits?

Natalie: Many felt they’d got the stakeholder management right, especially when the CEO leads the strategy around CX and gets involved, that definitely works. Customer immersion does too! Getting out there and talking to customers right from the top down. There was one session yesterday where 40-50 customers came in for some immersion sessions, which was good!

Complaints handling was another thing that came up as an area companies thought they’d got right and had improved on.

A lot of organisations know they haven’t got CX right, but they know there isn’t just one reason as to why. However, the room was very definite on the importance of collaboration and sharing ideas, and it being a good key to succeeding.

Louise: That’s good, that’s what we find with MATS Low-code, a lot of our customers talk to us about bringing both the IT and Business elements of their organisation together. It’s good to hear that they’re now on that page.

Natalie: Yes absolutely. We’re very strong in the public sector with our low-code platform, and utilities companies are basically privatised public companies. Their stakeholders are still the public.

Also, a big issue they have to address is around transparency and trust – which is similar to the Councils we support. A lot of Public Sector learnings can be shared with other sectors, but Low-code platforms will help to knit together legacy systems and break down those silos. What was very apparent throughout the day is that a cultural shift is needed in order to do that.

Louise: It needs to be adopted by the people!

Natalie: Absolutely, yes, from the employees right out.

Louise: Oh it sounds like an interesting few days. Thank you for coming on the podcast to share your insight.

Natalie: Absolutely delighted Louise, thanks for the opportunity.

To learn more about the CX Utilities Forum and future events, visit cxnetwork.com. Don’t forget you can also stay up to date with the events we’re attending by keeping an eye on netcall.com/event or following us on LinkedIn and Twitter.

You can listen to this podcast, including future and past episodes here.