Customer service training in the utilities sector

Long gone are the days of ‘like it or lump it’ when it comes to customer service from our gas and electricity companies. Competition is fierce and we now have a choice of supplier and can switch when we choose. We don’t always choose a supplier on price alone either – an excellent customer service record goes a long way in helping us decide where we should put our business.

It’s not just the energy companies who are paying much more attention to the importance of great customer service. The gas and electricity distribution networks, which are monopolies, are doing the same. So too are the water companies, even though domestic customers can’t at the moment choose their supplier, unlike the larger business customers.

Significant investment is made by the utilities sector as a whole in the pursuit of providing excellent customer service, by embracing social media and the web as well as still using the more traditional methods of post, phone and email.

Individual companies conduct their own customer satisfaction surveys at regular intervals and some carry out in-depth customer engagement exercises to find out exactly what the customer wants and expects. Anglian Water is an example of just this kind of exercise – between 2012 and 2014 in their biggest ever consultation they heard from over 50,000 customers about their priorities for the future, which helped shape their 2015-2020 plan.

The industry regulators Ofgem (electricity and gas) and Ofwat (water) also monitor customer service performance through a series of measures and independent surveys, comparing results with similar companies across the country. The resulting league tables are used in agreeing tariffs, so the utilities have every incentive to keep on top of this issue. (See www.ofgem.gov.uk and www.ofwat.gov.uk for more detailed information and survey results).

Having worked in the water industry for over 20 years, as well as in energy retail, the electricity and gas distribution sectors, and the railway industry, I am able in my training to share real-life examples of both good and bad customer service and the impact they have on the customer. The ‘monopoly mindset’ still exists in some areas of these essential services and is one of the challenges when delivering successful customer service training. This is particularly the case with long-service field engineers, who for many utilities have the highest proportion of face-to-face interactions with customers yet are very often the least capable of meeting the expected customer service and communication standards. The key to effective customer service training is to get front-line staff to look at the service you provide through the customer’s eyes. Getting staff to think like customers, adjust their attitudes and modify their behaviours is a most powerful way of helping to get it right first time – after all, we are all customers ourselves and we know what we want, expect and how we like to be treated.

Our thanks to Kate for writing this page.

Kate is our practice lead for the utilities sector. She is recognised as an excellent communicator, trainer and coach. After a successful career in the water industry, specialising in customer relations, public relations and communications, Kate joined a highly respected consultancy as communications expert, working closely with clients in the transport, national health and energy retail sectors. Kate’s first-hand experience of customer relations and customer service in the water industry enables her to draw on real life situations as learning points – whether good or bad. She strongly believes that every person we work with is a customer – whether internal or external – and that it is vital to interact positively with both.

Some of our other trainers are also very experienced in the utilities sector, including Scott in Hertfordshire (EDF, UK Power Networks, Morrison Utilities).

If you’d like a chat with any of our trainers to discuss your customer service training requirements in the utilities sector, do please give us a call on 01582 714285 and we’d be delighted to arrange it for you.