Page 4: Challenges and objectives
Most of the work in phase one involved the Directors of the company deciding how good it needed and wanted to be at delivering customer service, i.e. its 'Ambition.' They also assessed current levels of service, in all its aspects, so that the level of improvement required could be measured and targeted for the future. From the very start it was important for those at Yorkshire Electricity to recognise what is meant by customer service. Yorkshire Electricity defines customer service as:
‘The products and service that Yorkshire Electricity provides at each point of contact with its customers and the standard to which these are delivered.’
This definition recognises that the whole of Yorkshire Electricity is involved in the delivery of customer service, not just the Customer Service Department and those involved in ‘front-line’ operations. In developing this definition, the concept of 'Moments of Truth' has been used. Put simply, it means that every time someone from Yorkshire Electricity comes into contact with a customer, whether it is on a telephone, face-to-face or by letter, the customer will form either a positive or negative judgement on the quality of the Company. The aim is to make all these contacts positive.
There were several reasons for undertaking the customer service initiative. Yorkshire Electricity's stated business strategy is to retain and grow its customer base. It is considered that in 1998, when the domestic electricity market is open to competition, that customer service will be a crucial element in the minds of customers and will influence their choice of suppliers.
Another reason for the Customer Service Initiative is that poor customer service is expensive. A recent exercise has shown that it costs Yorkshire Electricity at least £3 million each year to deal with unnecessary queries and complaints, compensation to customers for poor service and having to do jobs again.
The quality of customer service also affects an organisation's image. The image of many privatised organisations has been affected by coverage in the media. Customer service is an important element in helping to improve perceptions not just of customers but also employees who want to be seen to be part of an organisation which provides good customer service.
Phase 2 – Developing the solutions
A vital part of customer service is to listen to what customers actually want. Yorkshire Electricity appointed a research company to find out what customers thought of Yorkshire Electricity and to find out more about their needs and expectations. The first part of the project involved holding group discussions with domestic customers and face-to-face interviews with a range of business customers. These identified service issues which were then used in the design of a questionnaire used in several hundred face to face interviews with customers, asking them for their comments upon service and in which areas they would first like to see an improvement. This helped to identify areas of customer service requiring most attention. This research identified not only these priority improvement areas, but current and expected standards of performance for each.
Accurately measuring current standards
Of course, it is not enough to say that customer service will be improved unless current standards are known and understood. Yorkshire Electricity, therefore, set up a project to measure the standards of customer service it provides across the whole organisation. For example, a Telephone Response Team was established to monitor how telephone calls were handled at all locations. This work showed that there was significant room for improvement.
Defining new standards
Once current standards were known and the views of customers had been identified, it was possible for Yorkshire Electricity to define new standards. These new standards then became the targets that the company worked towards and plans were developed to ensure that Yorkshire Electricity could achieve these standards. In setting these standards, Yorkshire Electricity looked not only at what customers wanted, but also at the standards achieved by other electricity companies and related utility industries.
Involving all staff
All 4,000 staff in Yorkshire Electricity contribute in some way to customer service, not only those who answer telephones, respond to letters, send out bills or read meters on customers' premises. Staff are the employees who deliver the customer service improvements and even those who do not deal directly with customers will indirectly, by their actions and through their efficiency, be contributing to customer perceptions of the organisation.