Last week I spoke at the MRS Utilities Research Conference, alongside Bristol Water’s Customer Research and Engagement Lead, Danielle Emerson.
We were sharing our experience of working together to transform the way in which Bristol Water talk to their customers. There were other similar presentations from across the water industry, exploring topics such as working with online communities, gamifying, willingness to pay, and supporting vulnerable customers.
It is apparent that many water companies have indeed been aiming for the step-change in their approach to customer engagement that Ofwat has called for, and that there has been much innovation around methodologies for engagement, and ambition around numbers of customers engaged. However, there was little discussion around the best methods to evaluate the outcomes and impact of this engagement – beyond providing business plan-related evidence for Ofwat’s PR19 requirements.
Reflecting on this, I sat down with Traverse’s evaluation brain Tim Bidey to discuss how robust evaluation strategies could strengthen ongoing efforts across the utilities sector to solidify customer engagement within business as usual activities. We recommend co-creating an evaluation strategy with your customers, and your internal and external stakeholders, in order to better understand what difference your engagement makes to them. There are a range of different approaches that you might want to take, but we’ve pulled out a few easy, low-cost starting points:
- Step back. Start out by revisiting what short-term changes you are trying to bring about as a result of your engagement activities. For example, you might be interested in customer behaviour changes such as their use of water, or perhaps you are looking to improve your relationship with certain stakeholder groups.
- Measure what matters. Sit down with colleagues and work out which of these changes are most important to you and your organisation – these are the ones you should focus on measuring. You might look at attendance and feedback from stakeholder meetings, or use social media and website analytics to see how well customers respond to content about reducing their water usage.
- Pick a tool. There are many tools out there to measure change, or you can develop your own. Some starter options might include:
- Surveys. It’s common practice to ask participants to fill in an evaluation form when they have attended some kind of engagement event. But once they have left the building, it’s rare that they are re-engaged. Get their contact details and ask them upfront if you can send them an online survey again in six months to see how they felt or what happened over the months following the event.
- Telephone interviews. Depending on what you are measuring, you might want to use the survey as an opportunity to ask the customer if they would also be willing to take part in a brief telephone interview. Use this interview to better explore, the ‘why’ and the ‘how’.
- Internal peer evaluations. Alternatively, you might want to create a peer evaluation process so that at various points during your engagement calendar you are inviting people from across the business to see what’s going on and provide their thoughts and feedback.
- Humans love stories. Regardless of what you choose to measure, and which methods you choose, it’s also worth considering early on how you’re going to report and communicate the results you find. The best reports are ones where results can be easily understood by those involved. When reflecting back to customers and stakeholders the feedback you’ve received, consider going beyond statistics and graphs and create compelling case study videos or infographics to tell that story.
Evaluating your work as you go, according to a pre-agreed framework, ensures that your engagement efforts are not only continually improving, but also helps bring your customers and stakeholders on the journey with you, as they have a greater understanding of what you are trying to achieve.
At Traverse, as we offer services in research, engagement, and evaluation that can help you take the next step and solidify customer engagement within business as usual activities. We have a long track records of working with clients who are experienced in or new to evaluation, and we tailor our approaches accordingly. We find that well-developed evaluation results in more efficient and effective ways of working and promotes a culture of learning and improvement.
For more information about how we could support your evaluation needs, please contact Tim at firstname.lastname@example.org