In conversation with Peter Farrer, Scottish Water…
As part of our conversation around the role of leadership in achieving customer-focused public services, Peter Farrer, Scottish Water’s Chief Operating Officer, describes the company’s journey to achieve Customer Service Excellence.
Peter, what was the first step in the journey?
PF: The most fundamental starting point in this journey to excellence has been setting a long term strategic direction which is all about customers. The message is very clear from our Chief Executive Douglas Millican – “Our success depends totally on knowing what matters to our customers”.Scottish Water has had many strategic objectives since it formed in 2002 but they were often “short term” and the focus was more on Assets and Operations rather than our Customers. Comparisons with water companies across the UK highlighted that our performance was poorer and less efficient, and we were ranked in the lowest quartile for Customer Service.
So we knew where we were but hadn’t decided where we wanted to go in the long term, like the Alice in Wonderland story “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there” so we had to be clear on where we wanted to be.
How did the company go about establishing ‘the vision’?
Setting this long term vision required a different approach. We knew we had to engage with customers to find out what they want. This involved conducting extensive customer research to seek views of household and non household customers across Scotland.
Listening and engaging with our customers, including business customers, has been a critical part of our strategy. As part of the extensive engagement programme we made sure we listened equally to Licenced Providers and Business End user customers alongside our household customers. The message is very clear from our Chief Executive Douglas Millican – “Our success depends totally on knowing what matters to our customers”.
We established our investment and improvement plans based on our customer feedback. For example, it was clear that there were increased expectations from some business customers in areas such as interruptions to supply where the customer had a dependence on water either as part of their service, their product or their production system. Feedback like this now helps to inform the policies and strategies that sit behind our investment delivery.
Meeting customers’ expectations is important because it helps to build trust which is a key part of our vision refreshed in 2014: To be trusted to care for the water on which Scotland depends. This Vision is underpinned by 6 pillars –
We have set out our aspirations and critical success factors for each of these pillars for the 2015-21 regulatory period which all have customers at the heart. The externally published 2015-21 Business Plan outlines our commitments to customers and illustrates the links between customer satisfaction, employee engagement, high performance and effective leadership.
How do the leaders of the company contribute to its success?
Once our Vision was introduced the next challenge was to bring it to life. Too many visions and strategic documents are put on the shelf to gather dust. The Executive Leadership Team recognised that bringing our Vision to life would require a huge investment of senior leadership time and energy.The Executive Leadership Team recognised that bringing our Vision to life would require a huge investment of senior leadership time and energy. Every two and half years we hold face to face engagement events for the whole company. The events in late 2014 gave all employees an opportunity to hear about our new Vision and business strategy, participate in activities, meet with our Executive Leadership Team and discuss our future ambitions as we seek to sustain high performance levels for the benefit of our customers.
The creation of a Scottish Water One leadership team was fundamental in achieving a culture change. Previously, senior managers would attend events then cascade information to their functions. Even with the best will in the world messages can often be diluted or misconstrued using this format. In our 2015 employee survey, 93% of employees said they were committed to playing their part in achieving the Scottish Water Vision.Since 2009 our leadership engagement events are for all of our leaders, that’s around 500 line managers. The biannual forums allow all leaders to hear high level messages first hand, discuss them with peers and consider how their teams can contribute. Again, this is a huge commitment and investment of senior leadership time. I believe that our Scottish Water One leadership team are the engagement vehicle which gives employees the line of sight from their everyday activities to the vision and objectives of the business. In our 2015 employee survey, 93% of employees said they were committed to playing their part in achieving the Scottish Water Vision.
It’s clear to me how key the line manager is, and the significant impact they have on individuals’ attitude to work and their performance on a day to day basis, this in turn impacts on our customers. We hold our leaders accountable for creating the right environment for success and have a strong track record of investing in their development. We have a model called the Virtuous Leadership Cycle – if we have a leadership focus to get complete buy-in to the strategic direction, the leaders will engage with their teams to make improvements, performance improves and as a result the leaders become more motivated and so the cycle continues.
What are the key elements of engaging with employees?
As an Executive Leadership Team we invest a lot of time and energy in engaging with all leaders as part of our long term people strategy. This strategy is aligned to our Vision with an aim of building a workforce which is capable, agile and resilient, therefore able to cope with change and deliver excellent customer service. Investing in areas such as line manager relationship, training and development, recognition and work life balance help us achieve our goal of having a highly engaged workforce.
Firstly and foremost, line manager relationship and training and development. Our ‘Aspire’ performance management process includes regular 1:1 conversations between individuals and their manager and encourages managers to really get to know and understand their team members. Employees are encouraged to develop themselves, to learn new skills and working practices to enable them to progress if that is their aspiration.Every employee has clear performance targets linked to our Vision to help them understand what is expected and how their work contributes directly to Scottish Water’s continued success. Regular feedback means individuals know where their strengths lie and what development they need to enable them to achieve their goals. It’s important to us that employees are trained to do their role competently and safely. Employees are encouraged to develop themselves, to learn new skills and working practices to enable them to progress if that is their aspiration. We also provide effective and timely support whether that is training; coaching or shadowing other more experienced colleagues to gain new insights. We have a range of structured development programmes for particular talent segments including our youth pipeline where we recruit an annual intake of Modern Apprentices, Graduates and Interns.
Recognition is also key in engaging employees; for example our GEM (Going the Extra Mile) awards allow leaders to positively reinforce great behaviours which have been recognised and fed back from individual customers. Delighted and satisfied external customers can nominate individual employees or teams to receive a GEM award recognising the effort the employee has undertaken in ‘Going the Extra Mile’ to ensure great customer service is delivered. This is complemented by an internal progamme called iGEM which encourages the development of an internal recognition and customer service culture. At a corporate level, every eighteen months we hold our Vision Awards which are the pinnacle of recognition in Scottish Water, celebrating successes and rewarding employees who have gone above and beyond for Scottish Water, and whose work promotes our Vision and its pillars.
Work life balance and employee wellbeing mustn’t be neglected. Our agile working philosophy means individuals can work flexibly at a time and place that suits them. 84% of employees believe that Scottish Water is committed to their personal wellbeing.This demonstrates to our people that they are valued and trusted and that we are willing to support them work in a way that suits them best. Our Wellbeing Programme provides a range of support including discounted gym memberships and a fast-track physiotherapy service for everyone regardless if the injury occurred inside or outside of work. 84% of employees believe that Scottish Water is committed to their personal wellbeing and we think that this is a key factor in motivating them to exercise discretionary effort.
How do you measure employee engagement in Scottish Water?
There is no doubt that engaged employees are more motivated and deliver better business performance and customer experience. For that reason it’s fundamental that the right investment goes into our engagement strategy and we track progress.
Our regular employee opinion survey enables all employees to have a ‘voice’ in helping shape the organisation by providing their views in areas such as pay and benefits, career opportunities, quality of leadership and strategic direction. The results of this survey are taken very seriously by the senior leadership team with both corporate and local action plans drawn up in each part of the business to address areas highlighted. We’ve tracked employee engagement through our employee opinion survey since 2006 and the engagement level has improved year on year. In 2006 40% of employees claimed they were engaged and our recent survey shows we are sitting in the top quartile with 68% of our employees engaged. Similarly, our employee motivation scores have increased from 52% to 76% over the same period.
Through the investment of our people we can correlate this with the satisfaction scores. In 2002 customer satisfaction sat at 63% compared to 2014/15 figure of 92%.
How do you measure improvements in customer satisfaction?
Customer experience is the key metric of how our customers “feel” about the service they have received. To measure this we implemented our customer feedback system, called the Customer Experience Score, which uses the Rant and Rave technology to provide real time feedback from customers. All dissatisfied customer experiences are analysed to determine the root cause of the dissatisfaction and are followed up with a customer contact to help close the loop and recover the customer experience.It monitors customer feedback on our customer experience delivery. This activity has revolutionised our ability to get real time feedback from customers on a job by job, person by person basis. The system provides individual and team level views of service experience which have made a significant contribution to the culture change; after all, no one wants to be at the bottom of the league.
The system uses multiple channels – emails, phone and text which allows customers to use their channel of choice. All dissatisfied customer contacts are analysed to determine the root cause of the dissatisfaction and are followed up with a customer contact to help close the loop and recover the customer experience. This is carried out by the team leader who then builds an action plan for their team or team member to make the necessary improvements. The day to day feedback we receive through the Customer Experience Survey is extremely valuable in giving us timely feedback which we can respond to quickly.
Scottish Water is quite unique as a utility company in that we don’t bill our customers directly therefore we don’t have an on-going relationship with the customer. Historically we only received feedback from those customers who had contacted us. Now we participate in a quarterly ‘Perception Survey’ where 1500 customers are surveyed by YouGov covering all demographics. The feedback tells us how customers “feel” about Scottish Water even if they haven’t been in touch with us or had a service issue. Since the vast majority of our customers don’t contact us this has opened up a whole new feedback channel which is extremely valuable.
Clearly, Scottish Water has made significant progress in improving customer service, what are the next milestones?
At the start of our journey we were ranked as one of the poorer water companies for Customer Service. Today we are considered a leading service provider when benchmarked against the UK utility sector through the Institute of Customer Service. With a culture of continuous improvement and a strong drive to do the right thing for the customer, we aim to be a leading service provider in the UK, not just a leader in the utility sector.
Scottish Water is a publicly owned company answerable to the Scottish Government and the people of Scotland. Its principal role is to provide water and wastewater services to customers and to safeguard the sustainability of Scotland’s water resources and environment. If has almost 3,500 employees based across Scotland covering a range of roles with around a fifth of those roles being customer facing on a daily basis.