Sometimes, providing the ideal customer service means ditching what you’re doing and simply starting over. This was the solution for South Australia’s SA Water, the only unregulated water authority in Australia, as it reviewed its operations and found that poor buy-in and sub-standard business processes were preventing staff from properly utilising asset management systems to meet customer service targets. In fact, staff in its 40-strong contact centre spent nearly all of their time handling billing calls.
“It was very hard for those operators to build up any knowledge about water,” says project manager, Ivan Jose. “They lacked the sort of knowledge you need to deal with customers when they call up to report a burst water main or other problem. We knew this was a fundamental problem: No matter how good our system, if they weren’t classifying work correctly we were never going to be able to drive improvements.”
Having diversified into a range of businesses over the years and implemented systems to support them, SA Water’s back-tobasics approach came to life when a review found its enterprise asset management system had gone off the rails.
“It wasn’t focused on asset managers nearly enough,” Jose explains, “and resistance was such that it made it difficult to get the data; it never drove the business as well as it could have.”
The solution might seem severe by many CIOs’ standards, but it has been working: After a staged overhaul in which its heavily customised IBM Maximo environment was wiped, installed from scratch and manually loaded with data that had been carefully cleaned and restructured, SA Water is finding its visibility vastly improved — and this, in turn, will allow it to boost customer service by better diagnosing and treating problems as they happen.
Key to this improvement is the reworking of customer service scripts to take advantage of the new environment, which not only supports direct access by smartphone-equipped mobile field workers, but offers integration with Google Maps to facilitate the location of customer-reported network issues. Extensive scripting of caller reports helps contact centre staff to quickly classify problems, and then create new jobs to address the problem according to clearly defined business processes.
“We designed a call-taking process that will capture as much information as possible and take decisions away from the contact centre operator,” Jose says. “Once the operative has entered basic information, the system should take care of the rest by turning the job into the system’s terms, identifying the priority of the job, and so on. When dealing with a customer service situation, you want to be able to give a firm commitment about when a crew is going to be there — and even if it’s a week, setting the expectation up front stops customer call-backs.”
The system went live on 1 July this year and has already produced significant improvements. Contact centre operators are now working more efficiently, having increased their call volumes from about 40 to 240 calls per day and allowing the contact centre to expand to 24-hour operation for the first time ever. As a result, customer queries are being answered more efficiently, putting the organisation in good stead as it approaches industry regulation that will encourage a customer focused culture.
Reconsidering the service culture is inevitably a long and drawn-out process, but by putting everything on the table and giving everybody in the business a seat at that table, the CIO can use customer service as a unifying goal that will not only better align IT service metrics with customer-service outcomes, but help bridge the business-IT divide once and for all.