By Rebecca Todesco, Utility Magazine

With different sizes, budgets and an array of essential services on offer, it’s normal for utilities and industry organisations to have differing company priorities. In spite of this, a common theme that is shared across the industry is a focus on customer experience and satisfaction.

Securing the satisfaction and loyalty of the people it services is a badge of honour for companies in the utility industry, and organisations that work hard to prioritise customer satisfaction and engagement often reap the rewards – literally and figuratively. As such, utilities are always looking to evolve and adopt policies and strategies that bring customer relations to the forefront of their priorities.

Yarra Valley Water’s hard work and focus on customer engagement has positioned it in the spotlight in the second half of 2023, with the utility receiving recognition of its excellence in customer service and ‘people first’ approach.

Yarra Valley Water’s General Manager of Retails Services, Steve Lennox, said, “We’ve had an incredible few months and are extremely proud to have received several awards including winning the national Contact Centre of the Year at the Auscontact Awards.”

Providing water and sewerage services to more than two million people and 61,000 businesses makes Yarra Valley Water one of the largest water utilities in the country, and the past year has seen it support more than 340,000 customer calls. According to the company’s recent customer satisfaction results from August 2023 to October 2023, satisfaction remains consistently high, with a rating of 86 per cent.

Awards celebrating excellence

Prior to Yarra Valley Water’s Customer Care team taking home Contact Centre of the Year at the 2023 Auscontact National Excellence awards, the utility also won Contact Centre of Year at the 2023 Auscontact Excellence State Awards. The national awards acknowledge outstanding contributions in Customer Service, Contact Centres, Customer Experience, and Employee Experience.

Mr Lennox himself was also Highly Commended as Executive of the Year at the Customer Service Institute of Australia’s Australian Service Excellence Awards. Mr Lennox said the company’s approach to customer service is as simple as considering the diverse needs of the community of more than two million people that it services, and striving to understand its customers as best it can.

“We engaged a citizens’ jury to help us with our price submission – which involved customers telling us what they want us to prioritise and work on over the next five years. This gives us complete confidence that our pricing submission reflects the diversity of the communities we serve.

“We also visit local shopping centres to raise awareness about available support and normalise conversations about services like our WaterCare financial support program. The program is available in five languages other than English, and includes additional information to support those who are deaf or hard of hearing.”

This is not the first year that the award spotlight has shone on Yarra Valley Water, with its excellent customer service being recognised in 2022 in the International Service Excellence Awards and the Australian Service Excellence Awards.

Gathering feedback that counts

Gathering feedback from its customers is significantly important to Yarra Valley Water and plays a big part in shaping the way the company approaches customer engagement. Mr Lennox said that the company utilises various channels – like surveys – to gather feedback, ensuring that not only customer input but staff input as well are considered when it comes to making ongoing improvements.

“During post call surveys our customers have the option to leave a voicemail. We pass any messages on to the consultant so that they can hear the experience directly from the customer. We feel that’s had a huge impact rather than just typing out the message.” “We encourage a culture of feedback within our team, and we welcome all feedback whether it’s positive or constructive. This is because we consider feedback as an opportunity for growth.”

Engaging with customers

Communicating with its customers has helped Yarra Valley Water get a better understanding of people’s biggest struggles when it comes to dealing with water services and enables it to better devise ways to assist them with this. “Many customers are facing increasing cost of living pressures, and are unaware of the available support options,” Mr Lennox said.

“About one third of customers eligible for concessions don’t claim them – missing out on up to 50 per cent off their annual bill. Since 2021, we’ve helped customers claim over $52 million in concessions. “We’re committed to making sure our essential services are affordable and accessible to everyone. Through our WaterCare program, customers can claim a concession, apply for a Utility Relief Grant, or switch to flexible payment options.”

Spotlighting internal excellence

Mr Lennox attributes a great deal of the company’s customer satisfaction success to its employees and said it’s important to recognise the hard work of individual team members as well as the company as a whole. Mr Lennox said the positive culture in the contact centre contributed to great customer satisfaction.

“Our people are critical to our success. It’s our people that give Yarra Valley Water our edge. “We have a working environment where we value every individual’s unique contribution.

Part of this includes having a high level of internal promotions and secondment opportunities. It’s important to enable all of our employees to achieve their full potential. When we invest in our people, we’re investing in our customers’ experience as well,” Mr Lennox said.

It’s a sentiment shared externally, with numerous Yarra Valley Water team members being individually recognised in the industry awards circuit. “We’re thrilled to see several of our team members acknowledged at the Australian Service Excellence Awards (ASEA).

We took a different approach this year and asked our entire Customer Care team to nominate the individual awards so that everyone feels like they have a part to play in recognising their peers.”

Matt Joseph was highly commended in the Customer Service Professional of the Year category, and Andrew Cawfield was named a finalist in the Customer Service Advocate of the Year category at the ASEA awards. Yarra Valley Water’s Contact Centre Team Leader, Corali Duncan, took out Customer Service Leader of the Year at the CSIA Australian Service Excellence Awards.

Additionally, at the Auscontact Excellence State Awards, Chris Dicker was named winner in the Reporting and Analytics category, as well as Darcy Lee in the Workforce Management Professional category.

“We have a brilliant team who are really focused on helping people,” Mr Lennox said. “These awards are a reflection of the work they do every single day to give our customers a good customer experience.”

Further showcasing its commitment to prioritising its team – especially in terms of post-pandemic recovery – Yarra Valley Water also received top honours with the Best Remote Work Strategy at the Australian HR Awards 2023 for its best practice approach to hybrid working.

Mr Lennox said that the team culture that Yarra Valley Water tries to embody contributes significantly to the company’s approach to customer service. “We’ve built a culture of recognition and a strong support network within our customer care team. We want our staff to know how much we value the effort they put in and their achievements. But most importantly, we want people to enjoy coming into work and feel connected.”

Yarra Valley Water’s focus on customer engagement has certainly earned it recognition and awards, as well as the less tangible reward of customer happiness and satisfaction. Continuing this same level of dedication going into the future is a crucial way for Yarra Valley Water to ensure it is delivering the same high-quality service to both its customers and its employees.

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