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How Watercare drives customer excellence with VoC and Thematic

Water is a sector that often gets taken for granted, with drainage and pipe infrastructure and services largely out of sight and out of mind.  

Watercare, New Zealand's largest utility, usually only hear from customers when things are going wrong. They are responsible for bringing clean water to 1.7 million people in Tamaki Makaurau (Auckland) and safeguarding the wastewater network to minimize impact on the environment.

This changed in early 2022, when two major storms wreaked havoc on Auckland and Watercare’s infrastructure. Burst water mains, sewage overflows, and service disruptions were widespread. The storms had followed hot on the heels of shortages in their field crew from the pandemic, causing a backlog of repairs. It was the perfect storm for a customer experience crisis!

A Customer Journey Challenge

In the aftermath of the storms, there was a massive influx of calls through to their support center.  The issues were urgent, customers were highly distressed and the customer service team was exhausted, resulting in a significant test of Watercare’s customer experience journey.

After the storms, the call center was overwhelmed with unhappy customers. 

It wasn’t long before they saw that their usual process for managing the customer experience was insufficient to handle the scale and complexity of the situation. Rather than just limping forward, Watercare set up a cross-functional team to improve the customer journey and decentrialized insights to support better decisions across the business.

This case study shares how Thematic helped them build a new approach to restore services and satisfaction levels.

Navigating Voice of the Customer data

Watercare have long recognized the importance of capturing and analyzing customer feedback through a Voice of the Customer (VOC) program. Typically only 15% of their customer base proactively contact them in any given month, via complaints through their support center. Because of this, their first goal was to build and establish a VOC program that delivered insights for each business unit.

Theresa Malloy, Watercare’s Insights Lead, shared how they overcame this engagement challenge.  A three-pronged VOC approach gives them a more balanced measure of customer sentiment and pain points. This, as well as a broader perspective of stakeholders including Auckland residents, affected communities and customers that use their service channels.

Watercare's aim is to enhance customer experience, using Thematic to identify what's working and what's not across a variety of voices

Setting up the VOC program was part of a larger goal to become a customer-centric organization. From the outset, they decided to use AI to mine the feedback data for insights. They chose Thematic to help them identify the red flags, or what was and wasn't working for different business areas. The objective was to empower their key leaders with the VOC insights to make changes that delivered the greatest value.

In deciding on Thematic, Theresa said a key benefit was “the ease of translating customer experiences into business performance” and helping every team take ownership of results.
Personalized Thematic dashboards help business units identify and understand key issues

Thematic produces a unique dashboard for each of their VoC components - Voice of the City, Community and Customer - with key metrics, data visualizations and insights summaries. From Team leaders to Business area managers, right up to the Chief customer office, all receive regular Thematic reports on the overall business results and their focus areas.

Using Thematic as a Beacon for Action

In the aftermath of the storm, as feedback flooded in, Watercare turned to Thematic to validate and prioritize emerging customer issues.

Theresa explained that Thematic served as a beacon during the crisis, illuminating crucial themes within customer feedback and guiding Watercare's strategic focus. Thematic identified red flags by quantifying themes, their impact on metrics and sentiment. The analysis tools showed them where to act, while the personal stories in customer verbatims made the human impact clearly seen and felt.

Benchmark analysis is a key part of Watercare's approach to improving CX.  Over the storm period, the insights team could see that detractors were on the increase and customers were unhappy about the wait times. The insights team dived into the Thematic platform to get more context and build an understanding of how to take action. For example, after the storms, they could see that customers were finding the repair processes increasingly frustrating and there was a growing trend of issues being unresolved.

Thematic themes show the business areas being impacted the most

From Thematic summaries, they quickly realized their customers were asking for better updates as to what was going on. Watercare shifted from ‘putting out fires’ to proactive problem-solving.

With Thematic Answers we quickly get context for business issues, hearing it in the customer’s language

The leadership team responded by forming a cross-functional task force. This task force looked at a new way to deal with critical issues, a way that wouldn’t deplete their resources. With stakeholders from across the business, it was a great example of collaboration - from field crew to engineers, frontline staff and customers to operations. They came up with innovative approaches to keeping customers informed, reallocated resources and enhanced triage processes - giving frontline staff the support they needed.

Collaboration and Decentralized Insights Drive Change

The task force shared the VoC insights and data across the business, to support customer understanding. Along the way they demonstrated that improving the employee experience has a positive impact on customer experience.

For example, their CX team used the insights to create a program that fostered a consistent approach to addressing complaints, driving customer excellence across teams. Their trainer created an “I’m a hero” programme to share the typical scenarios that customers may face.  

From Thematic’s analytics platform, they identified the driving themes of “promoters” or higher satisfaction, and shared hero stories with staff to drive consistent customer excellence.

“When you turn up to an overflow in someone’s backyard and you arrive on time, you share great information, with quality workmanship and leave the site tidy. You become the hero our customers need.”

In another example of decentralizing insights, field staff were given direct access to customer responses, to create a sense of pride and healthy competition. Making it easier to hear about hero moments from frontline actions helped to boost recognition and make everyone proud to be part of the team.

By consistently addressing issues and implementing the changes, Watercare returned to benchmark service levels within just a few months.

Watercare emerged from the disaster as a stronger and more resilient organization. The perfect storm for customer experience crisis evolved into an opportunity for growth and innovation. A critical part of the solution was using VOC data and insights to help improve the customer journey. Thematic is proud to continue this journey with them!

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