When life hands you lemons, transform your customer relationship

03 August 2018

When life hands you lemons, transform your customer relationship

Anna McKeon reflects on what we've learnt over two years of engaging with water industry customers for the PR19 regulatory price review. 

Over the last 20 months Traverse has been on a journey with our water industry clients to transform the way they talk to their customers and to develop a broad, robustly triangulated evidence base as the bedrock of business-decision making.

This journey has been instigated by the needs of PR19 and the business planning process that all water companies are currently going through, but it was also intended to reinvigorate how the water companies involve and listen to their customers on an ongoing basis.

We’re excited to be presenting some of the innovations and transformations of this process with our colleagues from Bristol Water at the Market Research Society Utilities Research conference in October, but as a taster, we wanted to share some of our key lessons learned. These lessons aren’t particular to the water industry, but relevant to any organisation who wants to move closer to their stakeholders and end service users, which should include the gas and electricity distributors who are about to start their own business planning process, RIIO-2.

1) Build flexibility into your programme. When you draft an engagement framework or programme, you may not know exactly what you will want to be talking to customers about in 6 or 12 months’ time. Good engagement is rarely linear, but builds as it goes, and circles back at times. You may also find that as members of your team become involved in talking to customers and understanding the value of engagement and participation, their interest can grow and new requests from across the business arise. To manage this, plan and budget for additional unspecified engagement activities that you can then adapt to meet arising needs.

2) Take the time to understand who your customers are. Customers aren’t all the same – they have different experiences and will hold different views. Consider conducting a customer segmentation to explore customer archetypes, or at the very least drawing together demographic information. Make sure you analyse all engagement outputs against these to see if different groups of customers have specific preferences. It’s not a one-size-fits all process.

3) Embrace a culture of feedback and challenge. When customers agree with you from the start, something is probably a little off! Challenge and feedback is a vital part engagement. While it can feel intimidating at first, try and encourage team members to welcome and embrace the process. Feedback and challenge not only means you can continue to improve what you’re doing, but it also builds a stronger relationship with customers in the long term. Don’t forget to close the feedback loop though – make sure you plan how to communicate the “you said, we did” part after you’ve taken the feedback on board.

4) Promote organisational learning throughout. Don’t outsource everything. While hiring independent contractors to talk to customers has great value in terms of independence and rigour, you miss the opportunity to build skills within your organisation. Consider working with your contractors to help build your team’s process design and facilitation skills. As your team become more skilled, this will also improve how they think about the procurement and scrutiny of the work delivered by contractors.   

5) Catalogue your outputs from the word go. You will probably end up with more data that you expected, and doing this retrospectively is a headache (we know, we’ve been there). As soon as you’ve done your first piece of engagement, log the number of customers attending, the feedback they gave, number and name the outputs (whether a report or a video etc) and start the beginning of your engagement library. This way you’ll build a beautiful reference tool and bank of statistics as you go along.

One of our favourite roles to play is that of the critical friend, and go on a journey with our clients, working together to achieve their goals. If you’re looking for this kind of support, email our Head of Engagement, Lucy Farrow lucy@traversepeople.ltd to have a chat and meet some of our team. 

 

 

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