by David Saxby, President, Measure-X

Customer serviceCustomers contact your utility every day. They have a problem. They need help understanding their bill. They’re interested in another product or service. If you asked every customer who called or walked into your customer service office during the next week to rate their experience with your utility, how would you do? If you aren’t measuring your customer service, it’s tough to know how you’re doing and where you need to improve. If you aren’t measuring consistently, you are making only an educated guess about the quality of your service.

Set Customer Service Standards
Written standards for how customers should be treated make it easier for your staff to understand what you expect from them. They also provide you with the means to measure employee performance. Communicate these standards to everyone in the company. Managers should be coaches to make sure standards are followed during every customer interaction. Here are some areas to include in your standards:

  • How to greet a customer
  • How to use the customer’s name during the interaction
  • How to show appreciation to the customer at the end of the interaction by using the person’s name
  • How to deal with unhappy customers
  • How to put customers on hold
  • How to transfer customers from one party to another

Measure Your Customers’ Experience
The only way to know if your standards are used is to measure them. Hire a third party to survey customers who recently interacted with the utility. Make the survey calls no more than three to five days after the customer’s interaction.

Having surveyed many utilities, I find it amazing what customers tell us about their experiences. Unfavourable feedback often reflects a desire for small things to be done differently. The customer usually is not asking for something unreasonable. Often, an individual is concerned about poor communication and attitude.

Measure New Customers’ Perceptions
New customers come to your utility every month to establish service. Many come from other utilities and may have their own ideas about good customer service. To measure their service experience, hire an outside company to pose as a customer and walk into or call your utility several times a month.

Create Customer Service Benchmarks
After we survey customers who have recently interacted with utilities, management immediately wants to know how the utility is doing. When we conduct another assessment 90 days later, management asks if service has improved. Create a measurement for each of your customer service standards that serves as your benchmark. It is from this base that you should strive for improvement.

Survey a sample of your customers monthly to evaluate the effectiveness of the skills your employees demonstrate in their interactions with customers. The only way to know if you’re improving is to measure customers’ experience and staff’s performance. It is critical that you share the results of these surveys with your staff. This will give them a clear picture of where they are and where they should be.

Use Measurement As A Coaching Tool
Feedback from your new and existing customers will often flush out inefficient processes and systems that may hamper your staff’s ability to perform at their best. It also helps you identify the people and skills that need the most improvement. Then it is up to management to use these results to coach your staff on how to improve. All coaching should be done in a positive manner. None of us likes to be wrong. Coaching delivered with an attitude of an opportunity for improvement will be well received.

Measurement Reinforces Consistency
Utilities want to provide excellent service and employees often believe they do. But when we share the results of our measurement with the staff, as well as feedback from customers and potential customers, they develop a new awareness about improving customer interactions.

When staff sees where they are doing well and where there are opportunities for improvement, when they see what customers actually say about their experience, employees’ perception of the quality of the service they provide begins to change and so does their behaviour.

The key to excellent customer service is for every employee to follow service standards consistently in every interaction. Every customer counts every single time – not just when the boss walks by or if the customer is polite. The utility’s reputation and bottom line are at risk.

Measure Internal Processes
Step into your customer’s shoes and experience the way you do things. For example, measure the process when a customer requests service to a new residence. What does the customer service representative do to make the customer understand and feel comfortable with how new service is established? When the work order is handed off to engineering and then to construction for completion, does everyone involved know the status of that order? Is someone checking to see if it is scheduled for timely completion? If not, then what? Are engineering and construction keeping the customer service department in the loop with any complications? Is your customer kept informed?

Examine your processes and measure their effectiveness. One of the best ways to identify opportunities for procedural improvement is to ask your employees what they would do differently. As the ones dealing every day with customers and procedures, front-line staff have incredible insight. They already know what could be done to make things better for customers.