Updated: Jul 15, 2022
For the five years before setting up Sooth Consulting I was Member Services Director for Pure Planet; a digital first energy supplier. I was there from pre launch right through to the end. And what an experience it was designing, delivering, leading and developing the service teams, operating model and overall operational strategy.
From the outset our service strategy was to offer only digital channels - no inbound calls. If a customer wanted help they could use the Pure Planet app from where they could self-serve, use our AI bot to get an answer or be taken through a process by a bot, or they could send a message to an agent. Customers were also able to email the team or direct message via Facebook and Twitter. And at the heart of our service model was our online community.
Delivering this back in 2017 was unusual, especially in the energy sector, and we knew this approach wasn’t for everyone. As well as offering a digital service to customers we also equipped all agents so they could work from home, or anywhere. This approach of digital service channels for customers and flexibility for our people meant the typical contact centre pressures such as resource planning and channel management were greatly reduced.
And when the first lockdown hit we were grateful we’d taken this approach. Everyone could work from home immediately - with zero service disruption. All our channels remained available and responded to by our teams. This was extremely important to us as inbound demand increased, as it did for many companies.
Because all our service channels remained open without any disruption it enabled us to keep developing the technology, the agent and customer experiences and to focus on deflecting more contact. Over time our teams built more functionality into the app so customers could complete complex as well as simple activities, such as updating details or carrying out Direct Debit reviews, without the need to speak to someone. We also built a small army of bots: each bot focused on a particular process or task, for example if a customer wanted to raise an issue with their smart meter. The bot would initially try to diagnose the problem, and if unable, would hand the conversation over to the team with the relevant knowledge to resolve the issue.
For our most vulnerable customers we deployed the option for them to book a callback via their app - the service was available seven days a week at a time convenient to them. It was dynamically activated when a customer, or we, added them to the energy Priority Services Register - a service for those who might need enhanced support.
Our online community came into its own during this time. Yes, it was a place where customer questions could be answered. But it was more than that. It was a community in the truest meaning - people discussing other topics of personal interest and supporting each other through tough times, which came across in their posts and polls and built a sustaining service channel.
This all sounds great, and it was. Yet it wasn’t altruistic. It all linked back to making service low effort for our customers, and a great place to work for our people, driving loyalty and minimising the cost to serve. A win:win if you like.
To bring this to life and for those of you who like a stat:
Agent annualised attrition was <5%
Agent annualised sickness was <2%
The number of agents to customers was half the energy industry norm
Our in app bots handled over 20,000 conversations a month
And the bots also managed 80% of these conversations to completion
Our online community had 60,000 registered members
Those community members resolved >90% of all questions asked there
We were Which? Recommended two years in a row
Our Trustpilot score was 4.6* - excellent for an energy company
There is so much talk about digital transformation - which to me makes it sound like it’s a one-off activity. Move to digital service and you’re done. My experience tells me it’s not. For me it’s a series of developments, bringing together all experiences, for both your people as well as your customers.
Careful design and process management together with a refreshed service team operating model are crucial aspects beyond the technology itself.
Want to know more about digital transformation and service design? Get in touch.