In October 2020, Yarra Valley Water won Customer Experience (CX) Team of the Year at the Ashton Media CX Awards. The water utility was recognised for its ‘outside-in’ approach to identifying opportunities across the customer journey and delivering innovative solutions to address customers’ needs.

Yarra Valley Water said this was all made possible through the creation of the Customer Experience Division back in 2018.

The CX Practice works to understand customer needs, pain-points and expectations first and then how the broader business can address these, ensuring that ongoing improvement is maintained.

Yarra Valley Water Divisional Manager of Customer Experience, Dr Anna Lorenzetto, said that the utility recognised a need to create initiatives from a customer’s perspective, rather than based on what it thought was best.

“That’s the difference between an outside-in approach, where improvements are evidence based, and derived from customer’s expectations and needs, versus making decisions from an internal view without considering the people that we serve,” Dr Lorenzetto said.

“It’s an easy trap to fall into because you know your business so well, and that line between you and the customer can become blurred.

“You might think that you’re speaking for the customer, but unless you’ve engaged your customers to share their experiences and they have told you what it is that they want, expect or need, you can’t be in a position to make improvements that better their experiences.

“Customers’ needs are also dynamic. They’re not static, and you constantly need to be checking in with people. And, customers come to every interaction with the memory of their other experiences.

“For instance, if a customer experiences airport check-in and has an amazing set of interactions, they come to subsequent interactions with that experience in the back of their mind.

“You’re not only constantly responding to the shifts in your customer base that result from simply being human, but you’re also responding to the shifts that result from customers’ other experiences that may happen in different sectors or geographies, or because of circumstances unrelated to your core business.

“Experience is always in flux, and you can never rest on your laurels.”

Dr Lorenzetto explained that Yarra Valley Water has what she refers to as a 360-degree CX Practice.

“We’re extremely fortunate to have CX measurement, qualitative and quantitative experience research, as well as user experience (UX) design and service design together in the one practice, there’s a real closeness between our CX insights and our CX design team. This means that we can adopt an ecosystem, rather than a siloed view of customers’ experiences,” Dr Lorenzetto said.

“That ecosystem understanding is what allows us to think through what a seamless experience must be like to meet a customer’s needs. If you think of a customer journey, it appears linear and there definitely is a sequence to it, but there’s this whole ecosystem that is required to deliver it.

“One of the brilliant things about the way the practice is set up is that there’s a lot of crossover between the different functions in the Customer Experience Practice.

“They’re very connected to one another so that it’s very easy for a designer to say to the metrics and analytics manager, ‘can I have a look at that journey map and where all those pain points are happening – I just want to get a slightly different understanding of what’s going on’.

“It means my subject matter experts are all in the mix looking at that one experience, and they can feed off each other. If you don’t have those core CX functions together and they’re conceptually or physically separated, it’s difficult to achieve a seamless experience for customers.

“Some of my team are trained in complex systems theory, and care ethics. Others in psychology and anthropology. They look at a customer’s experience as more than a journey that moves from left to right on a piece of paper.

“Their mindset is different, and that’s what you need for digging deep into understanding human experience, and for creating tangible experiences that address customers’ needs.”

Living up to customer expectations

When asked about the main issues that customers had raised, Dr Lorenzetto said that she would argue that all people have basic needs that they expect will be met during any interaction, and Yarra Valley Water customers were no different in this regard.

“For instance, everyone expects usability and accessibility in digital experiences. You expect that a process will be transparent. You expect that the way you’re communicated with will be clear. You expect things are going to be done in a timely manner and with ease. These are examples of some basics that people have come to expect in an interaction,” Dr Lorenzetto said.

“The challenge is to make sure that you never ever let those really basic expectations that people have of every interaction slip. The degree of timeliness might not be the same in different contexts, but it’s important to always deliver on customers’ minimum standards appropriate to the situation.

“If you’re able to consistently meet those basic expectations, then customers will cut you some slack when things go wrong – and things do go wrong. But if overall, you’ve always tried to ensure a positive experience, then when things go poorly, you fare better than if you’d been delivering consistently unsatisfactory experiences to people.”The Customer Experience Practice maintains a culture of innovation and ongoing improvement by constantly tweaking and refining different systems and processes.

“We constantly make improvements. We have a continuous feedback loop between CX measurement and CX design, where the measurement function informs the design improvements that are made to a customer’s experience. The improved experience is then measured and so forth. We are constantly collecting feedback through this process, and our customers are the ultimate beneficiaries of this,” Dr Lorenzetto said.

“Our journey maps are living, breathing documents. One of the things that I was adamant about when we instigated the journey mapping program was that they would not become pretty artifacts that get done once, and are then never looked at again.

“We have over 100 journeys that we’ve identified. The journey maps are updated quarterly with satisfaction measures and scores, which means we’re always looking at the customers’ pulse.”

Dr Lorenzetto commented that there’s no idle hands in the Customer Experience Practice, with a number of initiatives either underway or in the pipeline.

“Our journey mapping program has compiled a customer and employee pain-point register, and this informs customer experience improvement initiatives. It’s a really well-known body of work in the business, and its practical application is appreciated and understood as well,” Dr Lorenzetto said.

“We have started work on the digital design system, and this will support a consistent visual experience of our brand across our digital channels.

“We have also commenced working on a set of CX principles that will be used when designing experiences. We’ve been waiting for the right time to develop these; now that we have a body of work behind us and have, as a CX Practice, really come to understand our customers we are ready to action this.”

A worthy winner

The Ashton Media CX Awards are one of Australia and New Zealand’s ultimate accolades in customer experience, and benchmark excellence and innovation within the region. Yarra Valley Water Managing Director, Pat McCafferty, said that the organisation was honoured to be recognised at the awards.

“We’re incredibly thrilled to receive this award and even prouder that we have an ongoing system of continuous improvement that is customer-centric,” Mr McCafferty said.

“Our approach to improving customer experience is based on rigorous research, analysis and design to deliver a seamless experience for our customers.”

One of Yarra Valley Water’s CX initiatives includes its partnership with Snap, Send, Solve, which allows more customers to use their smartphone to report any leaks, bursts or spills.

The app enables Yarra Valley Water’s service response team and other service providers like Melbourne Water, or local councils, to see the problem first-hand and respond accordingly. Yarra Valley Water customers can use Snap, Send, Solve by following these instructions:

  • Download the app and sign up
  • Snap: Take a photo of the incident, remembering to make sure you are in a safe spot – don’t “snap” if doing so puts you in harm’s way
  • Send: The location and additional details are sent directly to Yarra Valley Water or other service providers or councils if the fault is theirs to fix
  • Solve: The report will be reviewed and prioritised for action

Yarra Valley Water takes thousands of calls each year reporting emergencies and infrastructure issues across its vast network that serves over two million Victorians.

Yarra Valley Water General Manager of Distribution Services, Dona Tantirimudalige, said the new partnership helps customers to get in touch at any time during business hours to report their fault.

“Officially partnering with Snap, Send, Solve makes it easier for people to let us know quickly what’s happening in their local area. Receiving reliable, visual information allows us to respond and solve the problem,” Ms Tantirimudalige said.

Ms Tantirimudalige commented that Snap, Send, Solve is also advantageous in helping save water due to leaks being reported earlier.

“If our customers find it easy to report even the smallest of issues and make good habits of doing so, over time we will collectively save more water, which is so important.”

Charlotte Pordage is Editor of Utility magazine, a position she has held since November 2018. She joined the team as an Associate Editor in October 2017, after sharpening her writing and editing skills across a range of print and digital publications. Charlotte graduated from Royal Holloway, University of London, in 2011 with joint honours in English and Latin. When she's not putting together Australia's only dedicated utility magazine, she can usually be found riding her horse or curled up with a good book.

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