The electric utility industry is experiencing unprecedented change with significant challenges to traditional business models and as such, how utilities conduct business is evolving. Utilities can benefit significantly by considering how they can create a culture of service in the midst of these industry changes.
In looking at organisations known for high levels of customer service, a common theme emerges — a culture that supports their excellence. In addition to training their employees in customer service skills; they hire the right people and make sure that customer service is an integral component of operations.
A culture of customer service involves beliefs, values, behaviours, and actions, all of which form the foundation for policies and interactions with customers. One of the first tips for developing a service culture is ensuring the commitment of the utility’s leadership.
A utility’s organisational culture starts at the top. Senior leadership has the power to set the vision, model correct behaviour, reward success and really drive change within the organisation. Utility executives need to first understand the business value of being a customer-focused organisation. If your executives are able to successfully communicate that everyone and every job at the utility exist to support the end purpose of delivering electricity to customers and community, all employees will understand that their job has an eventual impact on the quality of service provided to customers. The end result: happier internal and external customers.
Address Customer Expectations
Customers’ needs and expectations about their relationship with their electricity provider are changing. A segment of customers may want more environmentally friendly options, others want to reduce their dependence on their electric provider; either group may opt to install distributed generation; while others may welcome an energy efficiency program to help reduce their monthly electric bills. Understanding customer expectations and needs enable utilities to design products and services that meet these demands. Increasing dialogue with your customer base through focus groups, public meetings, community outreach, and social media are a key step in addressing your customers’ expectations.
Many utilities are faced with the challenge of an aging workforce. To satisfy the gap created by retiring employees; recruiting and hiring the right people to sustain or grow a service culture is of utmost importance. Beyond having the right qualifications, experience and skillsets, hiring managers need to ensure that job candidates have the right attitude and mindset to effectively support the utility’s customer service goals. To do this, interview and survey candidates to identify their core values, and determine whether those are in alignment with your organisation’s.
A culture of service is developed through the alignment of values and behaviors espoused by leadership, embraced by employees and sustained by your organisation’s structure, policies, and procedures.
Improving the customer experience must be the responsibility of everyone in the organisation, not just the customer service department. Your organisation’s mission, vision and core values must reflect the importance of the customer experience, but the culture also needs to be reinforced through action, by creating an environment to motivate, support and recognise employees for consistently taking action that creates value for customers and co-workers.
Policies and procedures, job descriptions, employee evaluations, and compensation practices must all support customer service goals while maintaining the financial and business integrity. Many utilities overlook how their policies undermine the customer experience and should limit rigid policies and procedures that hamper employees’ ability to find creative solutions.
Training & Education
The employee orientation program is integral to the ultimate success of fostering a culture of customer service as it indoctrinates new hires in the culture of the utility. An effective way for a utility to begin training employees to provide great customer service is to define desired behaviors. Utilities should explain to new employees what great service looks like at the utility and provide details on how to respond to inquiries or handle customer complaints.
Providing exceptional service can be taught. Like all skills, it takes practice to improve and some people learn more quickly than others. The training to support a culture of service also needs to explain how the interests of each employee are tied to the overall organisation and how both benefit from a focus on service improvement. Companies that are known for having the best customer service make training a continuous process rather than limiting training to the first few days or weeks on the job.
For an industry that is in flux, it’s best to focus on what is important – your customers. Hone in on your customer service strategy, involving all levels of your organisation with clearly defined goals, expectations and a reward system to build customer satisfaction and retain loyal customers.