LESSONS FOR UTILITY COMPANIES IN MAJOR SURVEY
‘utilities struggle to convince customers of their value’
A major survey of utility companies throughout Ireland and in Great Britain has been launched by Dublin and Edinburgh based consultancy firm Pathfinder Business Transformation Consultants. The survey throws into focus the need for utilities to enhance the public’s perception of the value they provide and to build trust among their customers.
The Pathfinder Utilities Business Survey 2014/15 included in depth interviews with five major utilities including Scottish Water who in 2002 went through the same process Irish Water are currently dealing with today and also includes detailed questionnaires which were completed by 50 specialist managers in the sector. Pathfinder’s Gary O’Sullivan said the survey provided “a way for those involved in or commenting on utilities to gain a better understanding of the challenges and opportunities faced by the sector, especially in times of significant change.”
One of the interviewees was Mark Dickson, Director of Technology and Change in Scottish Water who emphasised their continuing focus on building trust with customers and delivering a customer experience that is in line with the top performing companies across all sectors and not just those operating in utilities. In the report Mark Dickson, states;
“The two areas we continue to explore are how we build value and how we build trust with customers. Customers want a safe and reliable water supply and proper wastewater treatment. Security of water supply is a key issue that must play a core part of any discussion around increasing peoples awareness of the value of water and the importance of protecting it.”
Gary O’Sullivan said “Twelve years after Scottish Water was formed Scotland describes itself as a ‘Hydro Nation’. Global discussions have heralded water as a resource that will become even more valuable than oil and meanwhile the debate and protests rage on in Ireland about which way the taxpayer should pay for its water, through a bill or through general taxation. Whatever way it falls, we will have to pay either way. At this point there is a job to be done in convincing everyone that water is not just a mechanism to gather in more money but rather a strategic resource owned by the nation that must be invested in, protected and used to strengthen our position in a changing world.”
The Survey was launched at an event in Dublin, which was attended by representatives from across the utility and communications sector.
The guest speaker at the event was Peter Dixon, the outgoing Chief Executive of Phoenix Group in Northern Ireland who created a gas business in Northern Ireland that would eventually succeed in achieving more than 70% market penetration from a starting point where there was no piped gas in the region. Peter cited ‘persistence’ as a feature of new market entry.
“Persistence breaks resistance in a new market. If you are persistent and positive someone will give you a chance and other customers will follow.”
Elsewhere in the survey:
60% of Irish and British utility companies expect to increase revenue in the coming year
45% of utilities feel their infrastructure is sufficient for future needs while 10% identified a need for ‘immediate investment’
85% expect the level of investment in customer services to increase over the next 5 years
The study includes in depth interviews with senior management from Scottish Water, Vodafone Ireland, Phoenix Gas, SSE Airtricity and Bristol Water. These interviews provided for a much more focused assessment than a standard survey.
Gary O’Sullivan said the survey is an important body of work and is a comprehensive snapshot of what is important to senior executives of the sector at this moment in time.
“Much of the progress in the utilities sector has been made by entrepreneurs and innovators rather than governments. The utility businesses we engaged with highlighted customer service and ways of enhancing peoples understanding and perception of the value that is provided as key components what they want to achieve. That was common across energy, communications and water companies.”
In the middle of all of this, Customers are demanding value for money and most importantly they are saying “to keep me, keep it simple”. For many in utilities, this is something they are progressing at pace but have much to learn from customers. In the topical area of Irish Water, its a difficult ask when you consider they are starting from scratch and are being pushed to create a functioning entity from nothing in less than a year.
The full survey can be downloaded from publications