HomeOPINIONThe graft and the glory. But mostly the graft.

The graft and the glory. But mostly the graft.

Customer retention is up, new customers have been acquired, customer advocacy is tracking north, and we have more satisfied customers.*  

Sounds like a marketer’s dream, right? Well yes, it is, but it’s a restless dream and, frankly, most of the night has been spent awake. Last week, Contact Energy reported some good numbers in its annual results, including those customer successes listed above. 

And while I wish I could say there was one big idea, one silver bullet, the reality is that it’s the result of more than two years of relentless focus on customer experience. Retaining and winning new customers in a market with 32 competitors is hard yakka. Here’s what we’ve learned so far.  

The starting point was a 180-degree turn around in internal focus with a new ethos that was ‘customer inspired’.  Any number of retailers talk the talk that customers are at the heart of their business, not so many walk it.  To use an old proverb “to understand the man, you must first walk a mile in his shoes”.

Contact Energy’s customer service team went back to the beginning. A customer panel was set up involving existing and non-Contact customers, with every aspect of the customer experience road tested either through a digital process or in face-to-face sessions. New products and services were developed, often starting from a customer idea more often than not as a result of a “pain point”.  Real people were part of solving real problems.

The development of Contact’s ‘Home and Bach’ product is a case in point. “Why should I be charged for my bach when it is unoccupied” was a not uncommon complaint.  The customer was right.  Contact rescoped its product and pricing to create a bundled ‘Home and Bach’ product that ensured customers would not be charged for the bach when it was not being used.

Adopting the ‘customer inspired’ approach was also applied to the company’s debt management process.  An end to end review of the process revealed the majority of bad debts were a result of a trigger point in a customer’s personal circumstances.   An internal attitudinal change resulted in staff being coached to not ‘indict’ customers for their debt but to identify the cause and create solutions which helped remove the ‘pain point’ and turn it into a ‘delight point’. 

One example is a customer with a great job and good income who was considerably behind in her electricity bill.  The previous approach of ‘pay up’ letters was not working and would traditionally have resulted in disconnection.  However, by working with the customer and understanding what was happening in her life, the customer service team were able to develop a debt repayment programme that allowed for a fresh start and a means of clearing the debt – a win/win.

This year’s customer experience metrics are a result of a dramatic cultural step change from how the company talks about its customers – “you are not an ICP (meter), you are a customer” – through to the introduction of systems-based training which focuses on understanding and listening to identify those ‘pain points’ which in turn allows for the creation of solutions that work for customers.  Two consecutive years of rising customer numbers following eight years of losing customers means Contact is doing things right.  However, there is still a lot more hard work ahead to build on the momentum that has been achieved in the past two years.

*Contact results:

  • Customer numbers for the year across electricity, natural gas and LPG rose for the second successive year, from 562,500 to 567,000, in an extremely competitive market
  • More customers are advocating for Contact, with our Net Promoter Score now at +14, up a staggering 17 points and continuing a two-year upward trend from -3 in 2016, and  -8 in 2015 
  • More customers are choosing to stay with Contact, as we again recorded a level of customer switching below that of the overall market.
  • Customer complaint levels continue to fall – with Contact now accounting for just 14 percent of the market’s deadlocked complaints.

Vena Crawley is the chief customer officer at Contact Energy.

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