npower is the one of the UK’s largest energy suppliers, serving residential and business customers, having grown from 0.5m customers in 1999 to over 6m.
Over last 20 years, the utility sector continues to have the poorest reputation for customer service. energywatch gave npower a 4/6 rank for customer satisfaction.
The Citizens Advice Bureau reported, utility call centres are still the worst performing, with 30% dissatisfaction with contact, rising to 80% with gas.
npower Business was no different, with service levels of answering 50% of calls within 20secs (target 80%). Producing customer wait times up to 10/15 minutes on the telephone, with 2.5k calls abandoned (callers hanging-up) per month.
Such performance is usually associated with under-resourcing. Prit is a great advocate of staff wellbeing and has written papers to the DTI over staff occupancy levels in UK contact centres.
npower accepts, to compete successfully, they need to revolutionise the way they handle CS and are determined to deliver the highest service.
Phil Scholes, Head of CS Operations, stated, “we were looking to bring in an exceptional individual with cross sector experience, who could transform the CS operation, develop a culture of high performance and commercial delivery”.
Reporting into Liz Rothwell, Head of CS, the challenges were clear;
Ø Improve failing service levels, which had a massive 20-point gap to target (80%).
Ø Introduce/embed a performance management culture.
Ø Introduce a greater commerciality.
Ø Design/Implement a Balanced Scorecard of KPIs to improve performance.
Ø The real question was to identify staff required to achieve benchmark performance.
In parallel with reviewing under-performance, Prit set in motion a number of initiatives; this involved briefing management and gaining buy-in from individuals, of long-standing. As communication was key, Prit took on board the responsibility of addressing all staff, ensuring they understood requirements and expectations.
Having reviewed performance and capability, Prit introduced a change programme to address cultural issues and transform performance.
It was necessary to demonstrate outstanding leadership skills to gain buy-in from skill-sets ‘set in their ways’ – managers indicating they had tried things before without success. Development needs were identified for managers to perform and tackle the challenges.
Focus was on introducing accountability and responsibility for personal performance, enabling productivity improvement. It wasn’t long before staff were motivated to drive core business objectives with a determination to deliver best-of-breed service.
Ø Role models were identified who would ‘pace-set’ for staff to follow.
Ø Performance reporting developed.
Ø Daily feedback introduced.
Ø Ineffiencies identified.
Ø Cultural behavioural changes introduced.
Ø ‘Roll of Honour’ introduced for staff achieving standards.
Ø Scorecard introduced covering productivity, financial and quality.
Prit tackled the performance/people issues and the outcome was stunning, within 29 days the 80% target was not only achieved but a record level of 91% (Sep) was delivered, a 57% improvement (June 58%). Record performances in the group’s history now being delivered month-on-month.
By December, the service level increased to 96% - 66% improvement.
Abandoned calls were down to 200 (from 2.5k) a 92% improvement. Wait times down to 4 seconds from 10/15 minutes.
This was hugely significant outturn for a utility, matching the highest of financial service sector performance.
Revenue targets were introduced with £2.2m collected in the Q4 and 7k accounts converted to DD. Work was taken from other departments to process between calls.
This was quite a different picture, where calls were not being answered, to today, value-add being delivered to contacts and support being given to departments.
In answer to the under-resourcing question - Year on Year comparisons show improvements delivered with 10% less resource.
Beyond the Brief
Ø Prit provided additional counsel to management, providing strategic direction and new ideas.
Ø Prit held Customer Experience workshops challenging current thinking.
Ø Developed a customer charter to ensure a consensus ad idem with customers over expectations – this has been hugely accepted and will reduce unnecessary contacts.
Ø Introduced written competency tests to identify training needs – to be rolled out across the business.
The contract was extended to provide additional support across npower;
Ø To undertake capability studies and implement productivity improvements across 3 other sites.
Ø Identified an opportunity with Renewals department who have been experiencing difficulties following the price increase. Prit paid a flying visit, which has now turned into a business review.
Ø Chris Johnston (UK Operations Director) was so impressed with performance improvements and the commitment, enthusiasm and motivation of staff, posed the question, “how can this success be translated to support Residential”, the largest division in the UK.
Lisa Thompson (Team Manager), “When Prit arrived and made us aware of his expectations, I just thought there is no way we could achieve these levels, but Prit got us so motivated to succeed and introduced so many new ways of working, staff now really understand their own contribution”.
Liz Rothwell stated, “It is an understatement to say Prit, made a very significant contribution within such a short space of time and has delivered real sustainable solutions. It didn’t take Prit long to fit in, he brings his own brand of humour to the team and invaluable clarity of purpose”.