Customer Service on the Utility Sector Frontline During COVID-19

Morrison Utility Services with customers

Dan Rhodes, Head of Customer Service at Morrison Utility Services reports on the impact of the pandemic and outlines the organisation’s ‘Every Customer Counts’ program.

From the obvious health risk, to the lockdown and social distancing measures that are now part of our strange new world, the impact of the coronavirus pandemic has been all too evident.

For many people, the emotional, mental, social and financial stresses have been overwhelming. As we have seen, this worry and frustration has led people to question what they see around them – things that would have once been viewed as everyday life.

During the early stages of the pandemic this included the work of our sector. On-site teams working in local communities found themselves at the sharp end of public scrutiny, challenged on whether the utility infrastructure work taking place was truly ‘critical’ and whether social distancing guidelines were being adhered to. Customer contact centre teams also faced a rise in calls from customers questioning the continuation of work during the tight restrictions and guidance provided by the Government.

At the time, there was work to be done to establishing public faith and provide an understanding as to why utilities companies and their contractor partners were critical workers and working hard to keep people connected, taps flowing, households warm and lights switched on.

Thankfully, these messages were well received and public sentiment towards critical workers in our sector proved to be overwhelmingly positive throughout the restricted period.

It goes without saying that this has been a difficult time for everyone and businesses will have worked harder than ever to ensure the right support has been put into place for their own people. Strong, clear and consistent communications, encouragement to ensure colleagues feel emotionally and physically safe and well, or simply finding the time for an extra well done or thank you here and there.

‘Every colleague counts’ has been our mantra throughout. Ensuring the right support is in place is not only the right thing to do, but it also provides a foundation for a more positive customer experience.

Each critical worker, and each customer that they have engaged with, will have had their own experience and perspective of the coronavirus pandemic. During what has undoubtedly been a period of anxiety and stress for so many, the likelihood of an emotionally overloaded customer reacting unpredictably and disproportionately to an unforeseen issue with a utility service will almost inevitably increase.

Imagine, too, the additional impact for a vulnerable customer who is experiencing a supply interruption, a leak, a pressure drop or added noise or disruption stemming from works in their street during this period.

Long before coronavirus became a part of our everyday vocabulary, the need to understand and appreciate the varying needs of vulnerable customers has been a key area of focus for our sector. Quite rightly, the challenge of doing all we can to care for vulnerable customers has been a huge priority throughout the coronavirus pandemic.

Of course, vulnerability can take many forms, all of which require an appropriate and sensitive approach. From customers enduring extended periods of isolation due to age or health conditions, through to customers with mental ill health or struggling financially, the approach has to be right.

Our definition of customer vulnerability reflects those of our clients and their regulators, Ofgem and Ofwat. It also takes into account the impact we may have on customers who may be affected by the services we deliver.

Arming our teams on the utility infrastructure frontline with the appropriate training, guidance and tools to identify and understand each customer’s situation is a hugely important responsibility.

Asking the right questions, showing compassion, patience, flexibility and understanding in relation to a customer’s specific circumstances, offering the appropriate reassurances and providing clear and consistent communication on who we are and the work we are doing. It’s what our business refers to as ‘owning the last mile’, considering the specific needs of a vulnerable customer from the moment a job is started through to completion.

As measures and restrictions continue to ease, predicting exactly what the “new normal” will look like is almost impossible.

The best organisations and leadership teams will continue to play an instrumental role in understanding, supporting and positively influencing their people through the recovery period.

Influencing a customer’s mind set will be equally important. The onus is now to continue to work hard and understand each customer’s individual situation and act accordingly.

The customer service message for our people is that recovery is a phase and not just a moment. People will transition through the recovery period in their own ways and everyone – both customers and our own people – will go through their own journey.

From the operational frontline through to back-office support roles like planning and scheduling, everyone has a role to play.

‘Every Customer Counts’ is our aspiration for how Morrison Utility Services serves customers both directly and indirectly. It’s a philosophy which says that wherever we are and whatever we are doing, from digging holes and fixing faults, planning jobs, to engaging with customers, we will enhance the reputation of our clients and ourselves.

 Morrison Utility Services’ Every Customer Counts Programme

The Five Principles of ECC

  • Partnering with our clients: Setting out the principles of the service that clients can expect to receive from MUS and the benefits we bring to their business.
  • Understanding our customers: How MUS goes about understanding the journey we need to take for our customers – to give them the most appropriate experience to fit their particular needs.
  • Developing our people: Training our people to deliver our Customer Experience approach now and for the future, and providing reward and recognition for their achievements.
  • Delivering for customers: The processes and systems that are in place to support the organisation to deliver the service we want our customers to receive.
  • Measures: The different measures that MUS uses to quantify success in delivering Customer Experience, using external and internal methods and standards.

Morrison Utility Services won the Institute of Customer Service (ICS) 2020 Best Customer Satisfaction Strategy Award for its Every Customer Counts approach to delivering customer service excellence.

About the Author

Dan Rhodes is Head of Customer Service at Morrison Utility Services.

Morrison Utility Services is the UK’s largest, dedicated utility services provider, working in long-term frameworks on behalf of asset owners across the energy (gas and electricity) and water (water and wastewater) sectors. Morrison Utility Services is a part of M Group Services, a leading service provider to essential infrastructure markets in the UK and Ireland, delivering through 12 operating businesses across four divisions; Water, Energy, Transport and Telecom.

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