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‘We obsessively focus on making the energy experience memorable’

Contributor: Zarina de Ruiter
Posted: 10/10/2017

Bord Gáis Energy’s Head of Customer Experience says how their values of ‘simplicity, integrity and understanding’ help them deliver a better CX.

Aisling McCarthy is Head of Customer Experience and Operational Improvement at Bord Gáis Energy, a dual fuel Irish utility company owned by Centrica. She has held senior leadership roles in customer experience management, sales, marketing, customer services and supply chain at national and international levels, within the energy, consumer retail, chemical and pharmaceutical industries.

Having led transformation programmes for customer experience, from CX programme development, CRM development, product design, supply chain redesign, logistics enhancement, PR and communications, strategy and innovation along with cost optimisation, McCarthy has a wealth of knowledge on the tenacity and positivity needed to design and implement a customer experience that differentiates, delivers retention and returns a high NPS in an omni-channel environment with a multinational base.

She believes that being organisationally set up to meet your customers needs makes the customers journey and experience come to life. With this in mind, she has restructured some head office departments to mirror the key stages of the utility customer’s journey, with a vision to bring the customer closer.

In this interview with CX Network, McCarthy delves deeper into the customer experience strategy at Bord Gáis Energy, from reactive social care to building a customer-first company culture.

First of all, can you tell us about your key responsibilities as Head of CX and Operations Improvement, and the CX strategy at Bord Gáis Energy?

We’re a small organisation and there are only 300 of us – so my area spans quite broad. I manage complaints, escalations, training, quality assurance process improvement and also the full net promotor score (NPS) and Voice of the Customer (VOC) and customer journey programme.

It seems like an interesting combination but when you look at it, the quality score, NPS and complaints score are all little gifts from your customer to tell you where things are going wrong. Your quality score would get it a little bit ahead of the curve, your complaints score tells you even earlier on and your NPS tells you after the interaction.

When you couple all of that together and look at it as an insight suite it’s quite powerful, without having to do a huge amount of work. Your customers are giving you these little nuggets of insights all the time. That's my responsibility, and so is driving process improvement quality enhancements and operation efficiencies out of that.

When we look at the customer strategy then our brand tag line is to be the helpful energy company. We’re cool with the fact that we’re not the most important thing in our customers’ life, and that they may not be thinking about us. But we are thinking about them; all the time. And we’re obsessively focused on trying to make their energy experience one that's memorable. It doesn’t necessarily need to be Maserati memorable, but it needs to solve the problem that they have on that particular day, whatever that might be.

And then, hopefully, they don't have to phone us again. Because if they don't contact us again, then it means that we’re doing well. That's, ultimately, our CX strategy. We want to make it effortless, and that's still a journey that we’re going on.

When we look at the customer strategy then our brand tag line is to be the helpful energy company.

That’s very insightful, thanks for sharing! We recently did research into the global state of customer experience and we found that the top three trends in CX today are customer loyalty and retention, the digital customer experience, and data and analytics. Does this align with your own experience?

Completely. In Bord Gáis, retention and acquisition is very, very important to us. We, in Ireland, have one of the highest switching markets in Europe, so in the energy sector we have to be on our game. While price is a massive component of our offering, it’s also equally important that when the customer does join us, that that joining experience is effortless and easy. And also, afterwards when we go through things such as billing, payment, and queries the service should be good. We make it their expectation.

We reward customer loyalty through a really good rewards programme that we have in place with them. And within that loyalty programme, we offer advanced tickets to a theatre that we sponsor as well as other benefits. We find that actually drives retention way more than anything else that we do.

And our boiler servicing, which may not seem very exciting but you must get your boiler serviced every year, has our highest NPS score. Coupled with our rewards this is the biggest driver of retention in our market.

We’re seeing a change in our customers, so we are also looking at our digital experience and the data analytics that are behind that to try and structure it in a much more organic and customer focused way. Our biggest focus there is our digital engagement. We have a very loyal customer base that have been around for quite some time, but we’re also getting a lot of new customers who want to interact in a more digital way, whether that's via chat, email or via an app – at a time that suits them. And, we are working really hard to make our offering, and our service, meet their needs much more.

SEE ALSO: The Global State of Customer Experience 2017

And specifically speaking about the digital customer experience, can you tell me about any innovative initiatives that you're working on to really help make that focus a success?

There's a lot of investment being put into it, because I think there are a lot of tribal views of what a customer really wants. Does the customer want chat? Would they actually use it? Would it make a difference? Would an app be better?

So we’re doing a lot of work in making sure that we actually deliver what they want. We don't do proactive social care, but we do reactive social care, which is a new area for us. We weren’t too sure how customers would react to it, so we now hug any negative comments on our social platform, and solve it very quickly. And the positive response rate that we’ve received from that has been huge.

We don't measure NPS on it at the moment because it’s not a channel that we’re fully dedicated to, but it has given us a really good insight into how social channels can drive engagement. We had a media campaign recently when we were trying to introduce some of our staff. One of our boiler service engineers generated a great level of enthusiasm and gave us a really good opportunity to reinforce an area of our business around smart technology, which is a digital enabler as well and where we know the future is going be.

We don't do proactive social care, but we do reactive social care.

We have a product called Hive and you can pretty much control your lighting, heating, and security from your phone. And we’re focusing on really bringing that smart home technology to a broader group in Ireland.

The biggest challenge that customer experience leaders face today is building a customer-first culture. Is this the case for you as well?

For us it’s an opportunity. We are lucky to have an extremely dedicated and focused group of people, so building a customer-first culture is definitely a massive focus area for us. Our customer feedback is reviewed on a weekly basis by our executive team.

We talk about our brand NPS, our contact NPS, and our complaint levels, as something that has to be addressed. We don’t just give it lip service, but also funding, support, and authority to do what we need to do. I think we are slightly ahead of the curve, maybe that’s too bold, but I certainly think we’re in a very good position.

We’re focusing on really bringing smart home technology to a broader group.

So, would you say, if there are organisations that really have trouble with creating that customer-first culture, that it is that executive buy-in that is the roadblock they have to overcome?

Absolutely. When you get that on board, it makes it easier, because it’ll be consistent. You're not competing against other departments or against your peer group; sales and marketing aren’t competing against operations, or competing against IT. You have this one mandate to say: ‘actually, it’s customer-first and these are the values that we live by’.

We have values of simplicity, integrity and understanding. And that, for us, is our anchor. When we’re not too sure what we need to do, we go back to those. Is this simple enough? Is it easy for our customers to understand what we do? And is it right?

For some organisations, it’s getting that buy-in that is a challenge for them. When ROI cannot be demonstrated straight away, how can CX leaders approach the executive team to get that buy-in?

For me, it’s pilots. We did a pilot many years ago to start changing the vocabulary and to start changing the conversation. And they still talk about it to this day, in fact, I had a discussion with our MD recently and he brought up the pilot group that we ran. It was heart-warming for me that he even remembered it, because it was over four years ago. It makes a difference if you can prove in a small controlled environment that what you're trying to achieve is to deliver success and results, and then you talk about it. But it’s also about resilience and tenacity.

And when you're trying to drive a level of transformation it could be very lonely so you need to find your tribe. I am the chairperson of the CXPA in Ireland, and we have a network and a community of likeminded people, who support each other in trying to get that agenda changed. And, sometimes, you just need a few ideas of people who have done this before; they help shape your thinking. Don't give up and you're not alone – they're the two key things to remember.

Finally, a topic we haven't discussed yet, is digital transformation; which is very hot within the industry right now. What is your ultimate piece of advice for organisations, to help them ensure a successful transformation, while keeping the customer at the heart of that strategy?

Don't focus on your problem, focus on the customer’s problem. It’s about the customer and the problem your customer is trying to solve. And make sure you meet that need.

Don't focus on your problem, focus on the customer’s problem.

Contributor: Zarina de Ruiter
Posted: 10/10/2017