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CRM in Practice: Yorkshire Water

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21st Jan 2007
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By Stuart Lauchlan, news and analysis editor

In the aftermath of the drought in 1995, Yorkshire Water suffered from a very poor reputation in the eyes of its customers, but a new approach to CRM has improved this situation.

Today the company is celebrating its third consecutive win of the Utility of the Year award. It is ranked joint top in Ofwat’s overall performance table, maintained its position as the UK's most efficient water company, met its leakage targets set by Ofwat for the ninth year running and improved its customer satisfaction rating for ten consecutive years to a high of 93 percent.

“It can be too easy to put focus on statistics rather than putting customers at the heart of the operation, but for us it is very important to focus on the customer experience and to be the best relative to our competitors," says
Tim Sheer, contact centre manager for Yorkshire Water. "Our vision is to be 'clearly' the best water company in the UK and customer service is central to this”.

Yorkshire Water covers the largest geographic area with over two million active accounts and receives just under two million calls per annum. Unlike other sectors of the utility industry, domestic water customers within the UK currently do not have a choice of suppliers, although Yorkshire Water says it would like to believe its customers would choose YW as their supplier of choice.

“It is imperative we handle and resolve water supply queries as quickly as possible. Although most of our customer calls are relatively common and simple to respond to, some are much more complex," says Sheer. "Not only are these complex queries hard to answer, providing an incorrect response can lead to a significant increase in costs, unnecessary field visits and customer dissatisfaction."

The breadth and complexity of inbound calls are immense. Yorkshire Water’s aim was to have one agent being able to handle the full lifespan of the call to enhance the customer experience, and transferring calls is kept to a real minimum. This was possible for the most experienced agents, but not for newer recruits and as such a need for a robust knowledge management solution was identified.

There was a system in place. “Our ICOM (Integrated Customer and Operational Management) system was implemented five years ago to improve operational efficiencies, with the customer needs in mind," notes Beth Dodd, ICOM customer IT team manager. "Inbound calls are automatically transferred through our integrated platforms and systems, handling it from call in, through to close.”

Resolution knowledge

Contact centre agents now use KnowledgeAgent from eGain. "Regardless of the nature of a customer enquiry, our agents are able to diagnose problems and raise reactive work to resolve the issue – identifying the correct course of action at the point of customer contact is crucial,” explains Darren Thresh, senior IT professional and knowledge strategist at Yorkshire Water.

Following a call, the audit trail of what has been discussed and recommended is automatically captured by the eGain system and passed into Yorkshire Water’s ICOM systems, along with the service request. This eliminates the need for the agent to make notes and therefore speeds call wrap-up time, while ensuring high-quality data for closed-loop management of the call centre.

If any operation field work is required, the transcript of the call diagnosis is passed to the most appropriate field technician. This ensures that the correct technician is dispatched with comprehensive details about the nature of the problem so that the visit results in efficient problem resolution.

Using KnowledgeAgent, Yorkshire Water has been able to propagate expertise, best practices and resolution knowledge to the entire pool of agents. The knowledge base now contains over 800 resolutions, improving service consistency and compliance with corporate processes. Yorkshire Water is now achieving more than 90 percent first-call resolution. This initial diagnosis and giving the agent visibility of work within the customer’s area has dramatically reduced the number of unnecessary field visits.

In addition, the knowledge management solution has reduced, agent training time by 25 percent. Moreover, agents are able to handle a wider range of enquiries, resulting in a marked improvement in employee satisfaction. The reduction in call handling and wrap-up times is enabling agents to handle a larger number of calls. Customer satisfaction has also increased, with Yorkshire Water currently hitting an impressive 80 percent of its customer experience measures.

In the future, Yorkshire Water is looking to expand its customer communication to include online channels such as web self-service and to create a unified customer interaction hub. This will provide customers with a convenient and effective way to find answers to common queries on a 24x7 basis and communicate online with Yorkshire Water.

There are also other enhancements planned. “Experienced users of the tool can however become frustrated by this ‘single view’ of the data but by exploiting the flexibility of KnowledgeAgent, we are planning to implement dynamic access for more experienced agents," says Thresh. "eGain’s professional services team have already helped us design best practice processes for knowledge capture, creation and management, as well as customer service delivery.

Key word searching is the next step for YW which will enable quick user access to exactly the information our customers require, without the perception of numerous irrelevant questions. The implementation of this facility will enable us to deliver a further improved experience for our customers whilst also reducing the time on the call."

But for now, Yorkshire Water is content that its investment is paying returns in terms of improved customer satisfaction. “A service excellence mindset is firmly entrenched in Yorkshire Water’s business and this solution is playing a key role in enabling it”, concluded Sheer.

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