Sydney Water touts benefits of customer-centric journey

Benefits of customer experience strategy are starting to flow, with collaboration and problem-solving now top priorities

Sydney Water’s move to hatch an innovation lab is helping reframe problems and forms a key part of the utilities’ overarching CX strategy, according to customer experience solutions manager, Josh Isben.

“The CX lab is all about finding new ways to solve old problems and emerging challenges,” Isben told attendees at the Forrester CX 2018 event in Sydney last week. “It is our vehicle for driving innovative plays and solving customer problems in our business. It includes our virtual lab and our physical lab.

“It enables staff from across the business to submit ideas about problems they’ve seen and opportunities to improve. We then take those ideas and develop them. It's the vehicle for which staff get involved and actually solve them in a collaborative way.”  

Isben said the end goal is to build a long-term customer capability. “It’s all about empowering and enabling people from across the business to ‘gang up’ on problems.”

A collaborative, end-to-end approach that involves a wide range of people across the value chain is far more effective than traditional piecemeal fixes across the organisation in a siloed fashion, he said.

Sydney Water is Australia’s largest water and wastewater service provider. It delivers 551 billion litres of water annually, and serves about five million people across Sydney in two million properties.

“We believe to stay relevant in the future we need to really win that customer loyalty and advocacy,” Isben said. 

Part of the CX strategy centres around customer promises, asking what they value and expect from Sydney Water. The organisation has also implemented a CX platform - considered a billing system and CRM replacement – and devised several initiatives including segmentation, journey and interaction mapping and voice of customer.

Overall, Isben said the organisation changed the way it operated at a high level and broke things down into three key themes: Think and do things differently; increase the value to customers; and collaborate across the business as one team.

“We had no customer experience design team five years ago in this business,” he said, explaining that needed to change. “We also needed to get much better at some of those CX capabilities like customer data and research. We really needed to focus on doing the things that matter to customers, and really understanding our customers much better so when we do make interventions, changes and improvements to the customer experience, that they are actually meaningful.”

These and other moves are helping the traditional asset-driven organisation to put customers at the front of its decision-making and create customer advocates.

Isben said there was recognition among Sydney Water staff that the government-owned operation needed to step up in terms of its CX strategy and meet ever-changing global trends and evolving demographics.

“By 2031, there will be an extra 1.3 million people and an extra 500,000 more homes. That’s going to put enormous pressure on the liveability of the city, with its transport, affordability, amenity, recreation, and the quality of life of the people who live there,” he said.  

“For us, that presents some big challenges. Realistically, it means we can’t provide our service in the way we’ve done for the last 120 years. We need to find new solutions and ways to service our customers. Get better at things like conserving water and managing the environment to meet the needs of that much larger customer base.”

But Isben said the organisation can’t do it alone. “We need to work with a large number of external stakeholders that includes local and state government through to developers in the private sector, and we also need to bring our customers along with us. And to do all of those things, we need trust of all of those parties.”  

Hurdles to cross

While Sydney Water is on a mission to evolve into a modern-day operation that’s not only customer-centric, but can address problems head on and meet customer needs, there are challenges littering its path. Poor brand recognition is a big one, and Isben said 45 per cent of customers can’t correctly name their service provider.

“Thirty two per cent of customers aren’t aware that Sydney Water provides their wastewater service, so it’s challenging to demonstrate value for money when a lot of our customers don’t actually understand the service we’re providing for them,” he said.  

“And 35 per cent of customers don’t drink water from the tap. Why is that important? We see that, in some way, as a lack of trust in the product and that’s a real lack of trust in the brand as well.”

Additionally, there’s a lack of engagement, particularly with the tenanted segment of its customer base. “Our relationship is with the owner of the property. But 51 per cent of properties in Sydney are tenanted, which is a bit of a challenge for us because we don’t have a direct relationship with those customer,” Isben said.  

Another big challenge is the fact Sydney Water has a small number of contact details for customers, and has a tough time keeping them informed proactively. Meanwhile, the group also needs to get better at tailoring specific customer services, particularly as it relates to commercial and industrial business customers.

Sydney Water services 88,000 businesses across Sydney that are service-critical and where it’s considered critical to operation. This ranges from very large manufacturing to very small businesses like restaurants, cafes and hair dressers.

“What we’ve realised is that apart from the top 8000 of our biggest customers, we don’t actually have any differentiated, tailored pricing services for the other 80,000,” Isben said.

Isben said this is a prime example of where the lab will help. “It is about solving the problems of today to build a capability that will sustain the organisation over time." 

Follow CMO on Twitter: @CMOAustralia, take part in the CMO conversation on LinkedIn: CMO ANZ, join us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CMOAustralia, or check us out on Google+:google.com/+CmoAu  

 

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