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Helping Northern Gas Networks Improve Customer-Impacting Services with Customer Research

January 24th 2018

Supporting the energy sector with customer research

Not many people are thrilled by the idea of gas main works outside their home or business. How long for? What about the disruption? What about my Sunday lie-in? For gas distributors undertaking repairs and replacing old pipes is a core service function. So, how do they go about keeping customers happy? This case study shows how one utilities provider used our customer research to tackle, not one but two, complex customer experience scenarios. 

It’s natural to think that companies with a record for poor service are the ones who need insights into how they can enhance their customer experience, but it’s often some of the best. Northern Gas Networks has a compelling reputation for providing exemplary customer service to its 2.7m customers in the North of England. They’ve won several accolades, including a recent Complaint Handling Award and an Institute of Customer Service UK Award for successful customer service strategies. It is this commitment to providing the best customer service that spurred the network to approach us. 

Enhancing Customer-Impacting Scenarios with Customer Satisfaction Research

As a leading provider of customer satisfaction and business research for many utilities companies, Northern Gas Networks asked us to probe two customer-impacting situations.

The first surrounded their improvements to the network, referred to as Planned Works (PLW). With over 37,000km of gas mains to maintain, a fundamental part of the company’s work involves excavating and replacing old metal pipes. Although, as much notice is given to customers as possible, this essential work can affect home and business owners in several ways, from disrupting parking and driveway access to an intermittent gas supply. Northern Gas Networks were keen to understand more about what customers expected of their service, and what further steps they could take to improve their customer interactions.

The second challenging customer-facing scenario involved researching Northern Gas Network’s response to gas emergencies, or ‘Emergency Response and Repair’ (ERR). If customers smell gas they can contact a network operator who will ask questions and dispatch an engineer within two hours. Once an engineer arrives they will either make the situation safe or advise the homeowner to contact a Gas Safe Registered Engineer to undertake appropriate repairs. These touchpoints require careful management as there are several points of contention that can arise, for example:

  • Ensuring customers are given appropriate safety advice and kept informed of when an engineer will attend, plus any delays, to minimise disruption. 
  • Informing customers that their gas supply must remain off until an engineer can attend, affecting heating and hot water.
  • Identifying the problem and reinstating the supply quickly and efficiently, or where appropriate, informing customers that a Gas Safe Registered Engineer needs to attend, possibly prolonging customers time without gas.
  • Respecting customers home or business environment and conducting repairs in a timely and tidy way.  

How We Helped

We worked closely with Northern Gas Networks management team, developing and implementing a research programme to understand and measure the attributes customers expected.

Using our unique Customer Experience Quality Analysis system, we applied a blend of research methodologies to identify the performance ‘gap’ between what customers expected of Northern Gas Networks’ ERR and PLW services and their actual perceptions having experienced these services first-hand.

The research programme comprised six key phases:

Phase 1 -  Identifying a relevant PLW/ERR customer sample and running collaborative workshops with the network to draft appropriate questions for an in-depth interview script.   

Phase 2 -  Conducting a series of pre-appointed telephone qualitative interviews with a sample of relevant customers.

Phase 3 - Developing an effective gap analysis questionnaire applying the qualitative output captured during the telephone customer service surveys.

Phase 4 -  Employing our dedicated in-house Computer-assisted telephone interviewing (CATI) unit to survey an agreed sample of ERR and PLW customers.     

Phase 5 -  Analysing and reporting research results, including feedback sessions with the network’s senior management team outlining customers’ priorities and opportunities within their service delivery to increase customer satisfaction.        

Phase 6 – Implementing a monthly customer satisfaction survey tracking the core expectations of Northern Gas Network’s ERR and PLW services, enabling continual monitoring of customer satisfaction levels and the impact of any improvement actions the company takes.

Customer Feedback

Eileen Brown, Customer Experience Director at Northern Gas Networks, said:

“The project ran smoothly from start to finish. The construction of the research really challenged our thinking in terms of the journey that our customer’s go through. 

"Regular updates were provided throughout the fieldwork process, and reporting was provided on or before the deadlines that had been agreed. 

“Overall, we were better able to understand the priorities of our customers, and how they perceive the service that we provide. It really enhanced the information that we get through our usual customer satisfaction surveys.”

Ready to improve your customer interactions?

If you’d like to know more about TTi’s leading customer research solutions, call our experts today on 01753 214000 or email us here.