The Customer Hub is a key initiative of Sydney Water’s corporate strategy, enabling the utility’s transformation to a customer-centric organisation.
The Customer Hub was established to improve the customer experience for anyone either experiencing a Sydney Water service fault or affected by a service interruption. It has been a significant move away from a traditional asset-centric philosophy of ‘fix the asset, fix the customer problem’, to a process that considers and minimises customer impact, provides proactive SMS and email communications and case management for customers, and seeks and acts on customer feedback in real time.
The mantra for the Customer Hub is to be proactive in our communications with customers and predictive in the way we operate our assets. We are moving away from the traditional approach of waiting for our customers to tell us there is a problem to a much more proactive customer interaction.
The Customer Hub design was founded on customer research conducted by Sydney Water and customer service industry partners, comprising of customer journey mapping and testing, and design of solutions with customer focus groups.
The Hub’s design was focused on addressing some of the key pain points that customers have when they are affected by a Sydney Water service fault. Our research clearly showed that customers value being notified before and/or during a service interruption, as well as being kept informed of progress on an issue they have reported and having first point resolution to avoid repeat problems/contacts.
The project comprised of people, process and technology elements, and was delivered on time and on budget in September 2017. The Customer Hub commenced as a pilot covering the western population of Sydney (approximately one million people) and is now moving to full implementation covering the entire Sydney Water customer base (over five million people).
The Customer Hub team was formed from three previously siloed teams. The team includes customer service representatives from the contact centre; planners, schedulers and dispatchers from our maintenance business; and a team of customer advocates. These teams were combined and co-located under a single point of leadership and strategic direction.
In addition, a new 24/7 role was created: Customer Duty Managers (CDMs). CDMs are managers providing ‘day of operations’ leadership, not only to Hub staff, but for all Sydney Water operations and maintenance activities. They ensure that the daily impact on our customers is minimised and customers are proactively informed.
The Customer Hub processes were developed using agile project methodology in parallel with the development of the technology that supports each process.
The principle customer outcomes delivered by the process changes implemented through the Customer Hub include: minimised customer impact associated with water outages, pro-active notification of reactive repairs/burst water mains, real-time measurement of customer experience, real-time service recovery of any negative experiences, and proactive case management of individual customer circumstances.
The technology elements of the Customer Hub were developed by Sydney Water’s in-house Digital Business team along with subject matter experts from Sydney Water’s operational teams. Agile project methodology was used in parallel with the development and refinement of new processes.
The in-house project team had a high level of personal investment in the project’s success and benefited from very active sponsorship from Sydney Water’s CIO and GM Customer Delivery. In addition to this personal investment, the key technology tool (Spatial Hub) was developed by making a prototype available to all staff and crowd-sourcing ideas.
Staff were able to see their ideas incorporated with a very quick turn around, which resulted in a high level of staff engagement and a significantly improved product. By the time the tool was officially released, there was already a community of over 200 users within Sydney Water.
The technology deliverables for the Customer Hub comprised of a geospatial situational awareness tool (Spatial Hub), new online channels of choice for customers, a SMS/email customer notification and feedback platform, integration with existing systems, and the initiation of an Internet of Things (IoT) sensor pilot.
The biggest technology advance achieved by the Customer Hub team was the development of the geospatial tool. Spatial Hub simplifies Sydney Water’s complex water and wastewater networks and makes it very easy to firstly identify and then minimise the customer impact of any maintenance work.
The use of Spatial Hub to minimise the customer impact of water outages has resulted in the Customer Hub being able to avoid or mitigate the impact of water outages at over 63,000 properties. This is a reduction of approximately 25 per cent in the number of properties affected by water interruptions.
The customer notification system that was built has been used to provide over 40,000 customers with advance notice of water interruptions or information updates relating to a burst water main. The system has also been used to keep over 18,000 customers informed of progress on reported faults. Our real-time customer feedback tells us that over 80 per cent of respondents were satisfied or extremely satisfied that they were kept informed.
Customer feedback is now obtained in real time at various points in the service fault customer journey. The feedback is measured by an advocacy score and a review of verbatim comments.
The customer advocacy score being used by the Customer Hub is based on a Net Promoter Score (NPS). NPS is a measurement of the difference between the number of promoters (scores of nine or ten out of ten) and the number of detractors (six or below out of ten). A NPS above zero is desirable and a NPS of 50 is considered excellent. As of September 2018, the score measured by Customer Hub is 48. The current response rate for surveys is 13 per cent. An organisation employing NPS would generally anticipate a seven per cent response rate.
Proactive case management
Since the commencement of the Customer Hub pilot, over 900 customers have been proactively case managed through the resolution of an issue that has affected them (eg. a driveway has been excavated to repair a water main or a repeat fault). Under the traditional approach, these customers would have contacted us multiple times and in many cases, would have escalated their issue to a complaint.
Real-time experience recovery
While some customers do report having an unsatisfactory experience with Sydney Water (characterised by a score of six or below out of ten in their real-time feedback), the Customer Hub now contacts these customers in real time to explore how we can recover the customer experience. This has avoided issues being escalated to complaints and, in many cases, has resulted in the customer becoming a Sydney Water advocate.
Channels of choice
Additional web channels have been provided as part of the development of the Customer Hub that allow customers to report leaks, view current water outages and register to receive notifications online. Since the pilot commenced, over 14,000 leaks have been reported online, with customer feedback reflecting that this easy reporting process is highly valued.
Internet of Things
The Customer Hub is piloting the use of sensors connected to the Internet of Things (IoT) to better understand network performance and potentially identify asset problems before they become customer issues. The IoT pilot is in its infancy, but sewer blockages have already been identified before they resulted in a customer, community or environmental impact.
One of the major changes delivered by the Customer Hub has been cultural. Our schedulers and planners are now operating in a way that is much more customer centric and they look forward to receiving positive feedback from customers. Our Customer Service Representatives are now gaining a detailed knowledge of how the hydraulic network operates and are better able to help reduce the impact on customers.
Positive feedback gained in real time from customers is used to provide direct feedback and positive reinforcement for all members of the team, improving their feeling of relevance to the end-to-end customer experience. The positive feeling by all members of the Hub team is reflected in the team’s culture survey results, which are excellent.
A permanent Customer Hub team will be established by December 2018, expanding coverage to the entire Sydney Water customer base of over five million people.
We will co-locate with our System Operations Centre (SCADA monitoring) and look to further leverage technology such as IoT sensor networks and machine learning to improve our predictive capability. Our ultimate aim is to be ‘ahead of the game’ so that we are rectifying any problems before our customers even know about it.
It’s a very exciting time for Sydney Water.
Lauren ‘LJ’ Butler is the Assistant Editor of Utility magazine and has been part of the team at Monkey Media since 2018.
After completing a Bachelor of Media, Communications and Professional Writing at the University of Wollongong in 2014, and prior to writing about the utility sector, LJ worked as a Journalist and Sub Editor across the horticulture, hardware, power equipment, construction and accommodation industries with publishers such as Glenvale Publications, Multimedia Publishing and Bean Media Group.