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Case study: A disjointed customer experience program

I had a water meter fitted the other day. I know, I know, I should have had one fitted ages ago. Anyway, the promise of great savings on my annual water bill induced me to make the change. I was encouraged by a neat digital tool on the utility company's website which asked me how often we flushed the loos and washed the dishes. It came up with an incredible potential saving. I do hope it is true.

I booked a time and date for the installation and the fitter turned up within the three hour window which was promised. So far so good. The first thing the fitter needed to do was turn off the water to the house. Our house is 50 years old and situated down an unadopted lane. It is quite rural and both he and I scratched our heads as to if there ever was a stopcock.

The fitter had a metal detector which we used to look for the stopcock. We suspected that, if ever there was one, it would now be buried under the driveway or the garden. This unexpected snag was making the fitter anxious because he had three more visits planned for the afternoon and it was approaching 2 PM. It was going to have an adverse knock-on effect with bookings for other customers. He telephoned the office to ask for a support crew who could dig down to the pipe and cut off the water. As we were waiting and had nothing else to do, we persevered with the metal detector. At last we found the stopcock under 6 inches of soil. It was just as well because the support crew couldn't be located. They were all in meetings.

As I was volunteering my labour to the fitter, it gave me the opportunity to engage in conversation. I asked him how he enjoyed his work – "It's okay, I've been doing it for 10 years. It's a job".

This perfunctory attitude prompted more digging, this time of the mind, not the driveway. The fitter explained that the utility company has become obsessed with customer satisfaction in the last few years. It seems that everything is driven by customer satisfaction scores. If something goes wrong with a job, even though it may be no fault of the fitter, the customer could be given £25 in compensation. Depending on the issue, this £25 could be knocked off the fitter's wage. Customers could dictate to the utility company how they wanted a job done and almost always they would get their own way, even though it might not be the best solution.

I didn’t disclose that this subject of customer satisfaction is my life’s work. I started feeling uneasy about the subject and the way the utility company was tackling it. On the one hand I admired the apparent dedication to improving the satisfaction score. On the other hand, I was concerned that the customer experience wasn’t fully thought through. The search for Nirvana was in danger of killing the fitter’s passion for doing a great job. A great job had become subservient to pleasing the customer at all costs.

The website and the digital tool that showed a savings on my water bill was good. Booking the time slot for the fitting of the water meter was simple enough and I was pleased that it went to plan. These were routine moments of truth which met my expectations rather than delighted me. The real ambassador of the company was the fitter. And yet, it seemed to him that the pressures to get great customer satisfaction scores by head office were potentially affecting his ability to do a quality job.

It reminded me of James Heskett and his concept of the service profit chain. His theory proposes that great satisfaction requires the commitment of company staff all the way through an organisation so that at the end of the chain, customers receive great service and the company enjoys bountiful profits.

We carried out a project not so very long ago for a distribution company that had a similar disconnect to the utility company. It spent lots of money on IT and logistics to ensure that things were delivered on time. It spent nothing on the training of the delivery drivers who were the face of the company and the biggest contributors to a great customer experience.

Slick processes are important in ensuring customer satisfaction. However, processes are taken for granted by customers. They expect suppliers to have them in order. Relationships are the things that make for great customer experiences. They are now and they always have been. Great relationships involve people and people must be motivated and trained to deliver them.

As I write this blog my phone has just beeped with a text. “In relation to the recent installation of your water meter how satisfied are you on a scale from 1 to 5 where 5 is best?”. I have to give a score of 5 because I feel I am rating my man, not the whole event. After spending a couple of hours getting to know him and working as his labourer I can’t short change him. And I can see his point of view. To me he is the most important person in the chain. I guess my rating will leave the utility company thinking that it is doing a brilliant job. Hmmmm.


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