CX profile: How AGL's customer chief crafts experience leadership

AGL's Melissa Reynolds shares how the energy provider is building a customer-centric culture and focusing on signature moments in the CX journey

Melissa Reynolds
Melissa Reynolds

It’s the combination of great technology and people that will give organisations the means to deliver personalised experiences that actually meet customer expectations, AGL’s chief customer officer, Melissa Reynolds, claims.

“Customer experiences today are about delivering personalised sales, and informed, seamless and connected experiences across all channels,” she tells CMO.

“There are two critical ingredients to that. One is building a customer-centric culture, enabled by agile ways of working, where cross-functional teams are aligned around key customer journeys and come together to improve those experiences.

“The second ingredient is the underlying technology and infrastructure that supports personalised and digital ways of interacting, whether these be sales or services, across channels. Without great technology and people coming together, you don’t have the necessary ingredients to deliver great, personalised experiences.”

Reynolds agrees this form of digitally-fuelled CX is distinctly different to five or 10 years ago, when CX was making sure your product was easy to use and provided value for money.

“Today, experience is much more holistic – it’s where the product, channel, brand and the experience all come together seamlessly,” she says. “In that case, the role brand is elevated. It’s not just about identity, emotion and engagement. Brands today really have to add value to customers’ lives. They need to anticipate and cater to customer needs in real time and across channels in a personalised way.

“What’s more, customer experiences are being informed by outside categories. My experience booking hotels online is what I expect from my local gym, from the hairdresser and the bank. You build your experience expectations based on experiences across multiple categories.”

Being the customer chief

As the chief customer officer at AGL, Reynolds’ mission is to continue putting customers first and at the centre of everything the energy provider does. The role, which she assumed in May 2017, encompasses customer strategy, value proposition development, brand and marketing, sales, digital transformation and all operational elements that make it work behind the scenes such as billing, processing and connections.

From Reynolds’ career trajectory, it’s not surprising she’s landed where she has. She started her career as a bank teller, and has spent 30 years in the customer-facing frontline, working across finance, media and now energy.

Through all of this, Reynolds says she’s been at the forefront of change. In her early career as a product manager, for instance, she introduced telephone and later Internet banking to customers, which transformed the day-to-day transaction account banking proposition.

The led to working on the integration of Challenger and Westpac in the late 1990s, spearheading a brand repositioning at Challenge Bank and Bank of Melbourne, then leading digital transformation at White Pages. Most recently, Reynolds was EGM of retail banking at NAB, where she was instrumental in the transformation of the retail branch experience, bringing Net Promoter Score into the branch network and recording the highest customer advocacy for retail branches across the big four banks, she said.

Reynolds compared being chief customer officer at AGL to being the CEO of retail banking. AGL is divided into three parts: Power generation; wholesale and procurement; and the retail business (customer markets). On top of this, Reynolds is executive sponsor for equality and is championing gender equality across the organisation. AGL’s stated ambition is to have 50 per cent women in the leadership pipeline by 2022.

Finding the customer pain point

While AGL’s 3.6 million customer accounts arguably represent all segments of Australian society, one generally consistent concern is energy affordability, Reynolds says.

“It’s why you will have seen in our annual results a $50 million debt relief package and extension of loyalty discounts,” she says. In addition, AGL is introducing new products and services around lower fixed-rate offers. “We’re also advocating for reforms to make energy easier to understand,” Reynolds says.

At a wider level, AGL is two years into a three-year, $300m transformation program aimed at lifting customer experience largely through digitalising customer services, providing simplicity and ensuring seamless cross-channel interactions.

Announced in August 2016, the program sees AGL investing in three core components: Foundational capability, such as IT systems; digital adoption; and ‘signature moments’ for customers around their experience with AGL. Significant investment relates to data-driven personalisation of services, and the provider is taking on both Adobe’s Marketing Cloud stack, as well as sophisticated decisioning personalisation kit, to achieve these ambitions.

When the group embarked on the program, about 40 per cent of services for customers could be done digitally. Now it’s upwards of 70 per cent, Reynolds says.

“That means customer can either service themselves, do more activities online, or via the mobile app, which wasn’t available a couple of years ago,” she notes.

AGL also recorded 100 per cent growth in digital sales last year and about 50 per cent growth in digital interactions including the app, web services and My Account. Its NPS on digital services is +35, and half of bills are now served digitally.

Another key pillar of the transformation is tackling ‘Signature moments’ for customers as a way of improving simplicity and transparency. The plan is to tackle 40 identified moments long-term. Early efforts include self-service meter reading, which leads to more accurate billing. This overcomes one of the major pain points, which is estimated bills, Reynolds says.

Easy move is another offering aimed at alleviating pain points for customers moving house. This enables customers to track move on the go and connection changes online.

Energy insights, meanwhile, which is now available across all states, is a way to provide customers with information about how they consume energy in the home by category, such as heating and cooling, cooking, appliances and lightning. This was launched again in the spirit of simplicity and convenience but also with an eye on transparency so customers can manage bills better, she said.

More recent additions include the ‘here to help’ online tool, which shows if customers are entitled to particular concessions around health; and a range of new digital payments to schedule or extend, make one-off payments and so on.

“Many of the things we’ve done started as a minimum viable product, co-designed with customers, then iterating until we got to a point where we could roll them out at scale,” Reynolds says.

They’re all also outputs of the way teams at AGL works and its increasingly customer-centric culture, she says. For Reynolds, CX is ultimately less about structure and more about ways of working, leadership, and how to co-create with customers in the design of experience – in other words, piloting and testing.

“One of the most important things in building better CX is to get to market quickly as customers change,” she continues. “We’ve reduced our time-to-market by 50 per cent, meaning can shape an idea, work with customers and deliver it in about half the time it used to take.”

Listening to customers

To tap into the voice of customer, Reynolds said AGL continues to build on its segmentation model, and manages a formal VOC program integrating feedback across multiple channels from digital to contact centres. Speech analytics is used to analyse comments, and AGL employs ongoing consumer insight research supplements these findings.

“Culturally, our operating rhythms and ceremonies are anchored around the customers,” Reynolds explains. “We then commence our team meetings with a customer moment. We had a kick-off of our first customer appreciation day in first half of the year, and the second is coming up in the next few months. We have sessions internally around voice of customer at every one of our meetings.”

Again, actioning insight comes back to crossing corporate boundaries, building agile at scale and having multi-disciplinary teams that use human-centred design as the cornerstone of their decision making, Reynolds says.

“It can’t just be within the context of a CX transformation program, but becomes embedded in ways we work across customer markets,” she says. “That’s where we’ve pivoted the most. It’s about dropping assumptions of our customers and really listening to them and creating an environment where we’re encouraging our leaders to ask how this decision or action they’re taking really improve the life of the customer.”

Metrics helping teams see their progress are served up via a dashboard canvassing customer quality and quantity through to NPS, complaints and churn.

So how should other organisations who may not have the same level of company buy-in?

“Many organisations say they put customers at the heart of what they do, yet execute in a  different fashion,” Reynolds says. “The thing we have to continue to do is focus on our people and that culture internally. There is a great saying that ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast’ and I believe that to be true.

“It’s by having cross-functional teams that you can understand a decision in the sales funnel might impact a customer’s payment mechanisms, for example.”

As the customer leader specifically, Reynolds says you obviously have to be truly passionate about customers.

“Plus you need strong leadership and ability to drive that customer-centric culture,” she concludes. “Also important are good commercial acumen and decision making, because need to invest and prioritise resources to the most important areas for the long run.”

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