Utility companies profit from the power of ‘Thank You’

The simple ‘rediscovered’ art of recognising and thanking someone for a job well done lies behind a remarkable rise in customer satisfaction (C-sat) scores achieved by contracted staff working across Thames Water’s compulsory metering programme.

The results followed the adoption in 2017 of The WOW! Awards independent Customer Service Awards scheme by Thames Water’s contract partner, Morrison Utility Services. The initiative was a key factor in Thames’ recent decision to renew its metering contract with Morrison.

“After Morrison embraced the awards, our customer satisfaction (C-sat) score went way above our expectations,” says Thames Water’s Head of Metering, Mark Cooper. “We immediately started getting 4.1 out of 5, which was far higher than any previous compulsory programmes around the country.” 

Thames Water and Morrison next introduced the The WOW! Awards scheme to a customer site leakage programme that works off the back of smart meter data, and C-sat levels have rocketed from 4.1 to 4.8. Recently, staff achieved 16 C-sat scores of a perfect 5 in one week. Last year staff absenteeism fell by 10%, employee turnover fell by 6% and overall employee engagement levels have now reached 78%.

So how does The WOW! Awards operate? When a job is finished, each customer-facing employee asks customers if they would be happy to answer a set of questions about their performance, good or otherwise, on a specially printed WOW! card or online. Morrison’s managers similarly fill out the same on the performance of non-customer-facing call centre staff and other employees. 

The WOW! Awards itself independently judges these nominations. The successful employees are then awarded certificates at a monthly, Morrison-hosted ceremony, they see their awards displayed for all their colleagues to see on a Wall of WOW! in the workplace, and they get treated to a slap-up breakfast with senior managers they would otherwise seldom meet.

The awards scheme is spreading. “Some of our other contractors have seen how much it does for staff morale and have approached us about how it works,” says Cooper. 

The WOW! Awards has also successfully taken the scheme to other water companies, such as United Utilities in North-West England. Since adopting the awards scheme, the company has shot up from 22nd in Ofwat’s league ladder of water companies to 2nd and saved itself £75m pa in government penalties.

But why should this process lead to such high C-sat scores? WOW’s founder and Chief Executive, Derek Williams describes how before launching the scheme 21 years ago he was researching characteristics of successful companies that gave good service:  

“We invited customers to say when they had had an exceptional customer experience. What hit us was just how enthusiastically they spoke of the good service they had received from individual people – they didn’t mention company names. It blew me away as I’d always thought customers only ever wanted to complain! From this, The WOW! Awards were born.

“The second discovery was seeing how excited a young lad became in a coffee shop when he was presented with a certificate recognising good service. He made me think.”

Thirdly, Williams cites research from Dan Ariely [Author of Pay off] showing how people’s performance was affected after being given certain incentives. Four teams received either money, a pizza, nothing or, from their chief executive, a thank you. Incredibly, the ‘thanked’ team was the only one to go on to perform well; the others slumped, suggesting that recognition is more powerful than rewards.

“What comes across most powerfully when the awards are given out is, firstly, employees’ sheer sense of pride in the service they have delivered,” says Thames Water’s Mark Cooper. “It’s acknowledgement that they did what they set out to achieve. 

“Secondly, you can’t help seeing how happy people are each time someone comes up for their individual award. It’s beaming faces all round.”

Morrison’s Customer Operations and Resolutions Manager, Kerry Duke, sums up: “Adopting The WOW! Awards has meant our C-sat score is now consistently 4.6 or above out of 5 – it’s an extremely high figure that shows we are doing a fantastic job on site. It really helps us differentiate ourselves from competitors and shows how important customer service is to us.