This article is an extract from a publication celebrating the 85th Anniversary of IGU (International Gas Union) and was written by Marie Lyster, Customer Experience Manager`and Rory Somers is Networks Materials Manager at Gas Networks Ireland.
Gas Networks Ireland (GNI) owns, operates, builds and maintains the natural gas network in Ireland. They connect and deliver gas to more than 673,000 domestic customers and 25,000 business customers regardless of their gas supplier. Their core purpose is to ensure the safe and reliable delivery of gas to customers 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
By serving their customers and collaborating with their partners, they continually advance the utilisation of the gas networks for the benefit of Ireland. GNI’s mission is ‘Committed to putting our customers first’. They strive to live up to their values: customer service; safety; performance; integrity and collaboration in all behaviours and interactions with customers, staff, suppliers, stakeholders
and the general public in the pursuit of excellent experience.
Traditionally the key focus in GNI has been safety first – a predominately engineering, driven organisation. GNI’s customer experience management programme required a framework – ‘Insights into Action’ – to measure customers’ experiences, identify what the ideal experience is in their minds and in turn aid the organisation to identify and implement improvements and process change that puts
the customer first. The five key principles GNI follows in doing this are:
Through their ‘Insights into Action’ framework, GNI gained a deep understanding of these customers’ experiences and drove out solutions to deliver process improvements and enhance customers’ experience. Across the organisation this programme is used to set and monitor progress towards customer experience targets, ensuring the customer is at the centre of everything GNI does.
The ‘Insights into Action’ framework and how it was applied to enhancing the experience of customers is summarised above.
One example of this: Gas Networks Ireland provides a 24-hour, 365-day a year emergency response service to anyone who phones the emergency helpline to report a suspected gas escape anywhere in the country. GNI commits to arrive on site within one hour nationwide and responds to about 20,000 calls annually.
While all external gas leaks are repaired and any internal leaks made safe, customer experience measurement work was telling GNI that the initial reporting of a suspected leak and follow up required by customers still involved a great deal of personal effort for customers.
Based on both quantitative and qualitative feedback from W5’s customer experience measurement programme, GNI identified that despite high satisfaction scores and a streamlined process internally, reporting a suspected gas leak continued to be a very stressful activity for customers involving a great deal of personal effort. Even greater reassurance was needed.
Real-time monitoring and sharing the insights across the business and with external partners through monthly reports, intranet and stakeholder meetings highlighted customers’ difficulties and the issues for the business
As a utility with an outsourced business model, a successful solution required collaboration.
GNI engaged with the internal emergency team, the RGII (Registered Gas Installers of Ireland) and our business partners through monthly meetings, and a quarterly Customer Experience Day, to identify and commit to ways they could address this issue together.
The impacts of these actions have been seen across the company:
◆ There has been a 37% reduction in unwanted calls on the emergency phone line following the introduction of the new message. 95% of calls are now answered in 20 seconds.
◆ Reassuring customers better means we have reduced the amount of effort it takes customers to report a suspected gas leak.“I was amazed how quickly the call was responded to. I felt at all times hat I was dealing with experienced people, from the lovely lady who took my call to the two gentlemen who arrived at my door. What could have been a nightmare experience was handled quickly and professionally, and I was left feeling very safe in my home. Thank you.” Customer feedback, November 2015
◆ From reaching out to filters and measuring their experience as employees, GNI knows that they feel more confident in advising/ reassuring customers, and are delighted to have more tools to help with this.
◆ GNI have enhanced their relationship with the RGII through collaboration on training and the design of communications.
For the organisation as a whole, too, the Insights into Action programme has delivered:
◆ GNI’s customer effort has decreased from 2.13 (2012) to 1.62 (2015); the lower an effort score is, the better.
◆ The organisation’s overall Net Promoter Score (likelihood to recommend) has risen from 41 (2012) to 51 (2015).
◆ The proportion of customers who say they are very satisfied has risen from 60% (2012) to 74% (2015).
◆ The top five words our customers use to describe their experience: excellent; good; satisfied; professional; efficient.
◆ In 2015 alone, 47 initiatives were implemented to enhance customer experience.
◆ Since 2012, calls to GNI’s call centre have been reduced by 26%.
◆ In 2015, 129 staff were rewarded for going above and beyond for customers.
◆ The company has been recognised by the industry as a leader in customer care. “Gas Networks Ireland is exemplary in customer service (95%). Figures achieved are the highest achieved by any company certified to the mark.” Feedback following Business in the Community Ireland, NSAI Audit 2015.
Customers always have an experience – good, bad or indifferent. The challenge is to influence the customer in a way that differentiates this experience and delivers value. Customer experience has now overtaken price and product as the key brand differentiator. Organisations are fast realising that it pays to focus on delivering excellent customer experiences – companies that are excelling in customer experience are growing their revenues at 4-8% above their market average (Bain & Co).This has resulted in almost 90% of companies stating that in 2016, they would be competing primarily on the basis of customer experience (Gartner). However, while 80% of companies believe that they deliver a superior customer experience, only 8% of their customers agree (Bain & Co). Given this drive and emphasis on customer experience, it is important to understand what is meant by the term customer experience.
Essentially it is the sum of all the experiences your customers have with you. The simplest definition may be that customer experience is the organisation’s brand promise and brand values in action on the ground. If you can unlock what’s unique and true about your brand, and deliver exceptionally on the promises your brand has made to customers, then you’ll get your customers talking.
As businesses are both product and people based the delivery of the brand and a great customer experience on the ground involves the entire company, both customer-facing people as they interact with the customer, but also those in the background as they work with each other in the interests of the customer. Employee engagement and commitment is key to driving improvement in customer experience, placing employees at the centre of your customer experience management programme.
“To value your customer you need to spend some time understanding the interactions they have with you, viewing your service through their eyes and designing in such a way that customers receive consistent experiences over time that they consider valuable.” Oslo School of Architecture and Design
A successful measurement programme is critical. This brings the customers’ voice into the organisation and allows you to take action on what your customers are telling you. Most encompass a range of measures, each telling a different story but together painting the complete picture.
◆ Was the customer able to do what they needed to do? – Customer satisfaction rating
◆ How easy or hard was it to do? – Customer effort score
◆ How did it make the customer feel? – Net promoter score
◆ What are the customers saying? – Customer verbatim
The challenge is to deliver a ‘joined-up and seamless’ service that puts customers first while operating an optimised business model employing key business partners which are an extension of the Customer Care team. For example contact centre, field staff and customer experience monitoring provider, all collaborating effectively with external stakeholders including regulators, local authorities, installers and suppliers.
Find the sweet spot for your organisation by managing the tension between business efficiency and a customer’s desire for distinctive experiences. Living your brand involves the entire organisation – in a truly customer-centric business model, the customer experience is driven by everyone as they interact with the customer and as they work with each other in the interest of the customer. Together these should both help to increase business efficiency and customer preference.
“The most basic of all human needs is the need to understand and be understood. The best way to understand people is to listen to them.” Ralph Nichols
Harnessing customer feedback to consistently improve their experience through the Insights into Action programme has worked for GNI. The journey that the organisation has taken points to the importance of the following in building a great framework or programme for others:
◆ Collect relevant, accurate and timely data to identify insights
◆ Put the customer at the centre
◆ Identify quick wins and process changes
◆ Integrate brand values
◆ Seek out and integrate best practice from other organisations
◆ Incorporate the perspective of employees and other stakeholders as you are relying on them to deliver a great experience
◆ Embed it across the organisation – every department should be thinking about the customer experience
◆ Broad and deep – consider every interaction you have with the customer
◆ Always ask “Why?” – question everything to ensure it works for the customer and the importance of executive support:
“Customer focused service delivery is a fundamental element of Gas Networks Ireland’s overall business strategy. GNI and business partners work tirelessly to truly put our customers at the heart of our business, always pushing the boundaries and the business to deliver on and exceed our customers’ expectations. The customer experience programme has delivered significant returns in terms of customer satisfaction, employee engagement and overall business performance.” Liam O’Sullivan, Managing Director, Gas Networks Ireland.
Marie Lyster is Customer Experience Manager and Rory Somers is Networks Materials Manager at Gas Networks Ireland.