Contact’s quest to make life easier for customers and employees alike

Peter Griffin

Peter Griffin

If you find it hard to imagine yourself chatting with a customer service representative on Facebook Messenger about your electricity bill, you are obviously not a Contact Energy customer.

This is the second of a five-part series highlighting the projects of finalists in the Business Transformation through Digital and IT category of the CIO Awards 2021. The awards winners will be announced in Auckland on November 23. This series is sponsored by CIO Awards sponsor ClearPoint.

The provider of electricity, gas and broadband services is the first Kiwi utility company to open customer service channels on Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp that feed directly into its customer service software.

The move to embrace the popular messaging apps signals a desire to move away from email as the key digital channel to communicate with customers and was but one part of Contact’s E2E (end to end) customer journey project to reimagine the user experience for both customers and employees.

That two-year project is now a finalist in the Business Transformation through Digital and ICT category at this year’s CIO Awards, with the winner to be announced on November 23.

Tighe Wall, Contact Energy’s Chief Digital Officer, and the man who leads E2E, says the plan was to use the digitisation project to help revamp Contact’s retail business, monitor progress and then apply the process for other parts of the organisation.

“We started by mapping the end to end customer journey, highlighting all the friction for customers and employees, the improvements we could make and identifying how we could use data to make better decisions,” says Wall.

Interactive billing

An aspirational journey plan was then developed, with key initiatives identified that could turn it into reality. Key components included a fresh approach to issuing bills to customers, a new digital channel for customer queries and a complete overhaul of the behind the scenes processes used to provision new connections.

Contact is an old hand at delivering electricity and gas to customers, but its broadband business is relatively new.

“Broadband is more complicated,” explains Wall.

“You have longer calls and you do a lot more troubleshooting. We thought about how we could automate much of the human work in the background to free up our customer service representatives to answer some of those more difficult questions.”

The end result is that customer care staff now only have to navigate three screens to sign up a customer to a bundle of electricity, gas and broadband. Previously, the process involved clicking through up to 40 screens of information.

Contact used to send customers a bill as a PDF with a link to an online customer service portal. Now the company has moved to an e-bill and is building interactive elements into it to give customers a clearer view of their usage.

“Our reps can co-browse with customers and walk them through their bills in a way that is really easy to understand,” says Wall.

“We can say, for example, your bill was a little high, click here and see what your usage was for the third week of July.”

Instead of building a chatbot into its website, Contact listened to its customers, who wanted the ability to chat to a rep on platforms they know and love – Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp.

“Our customers and service team have much more casual conversations now,” says programme manager Steffen Troschke. 

“You can ask a question of us and we respond very quickly. Our response times are much lower than they were with email and our service levels are significantly higher.”

In fact, the shift away from email has led to a dramatic improvement in customer satisfaction. Email is a notoriously challenging service channel, and the new messaging apps have a 50 point NPS (Net Promoter Score) advantage.

Improving the bottom line

The E2E project had the goal of not only improving customer satisfaction but reducing operating costs and on that measure it has been a great success too. Thanks to the efficiencies the project created, In the year to March 2021 Contact was able to reduce staffing by 13% through natural attrition and not needing to backfill vacant positions, as well as reassigning other roles across the business. Operating expenditure savings of $6.3 million are expected by 2023. The cost of getting a customer onboard with Contact has been reduced by $61.

The key to E2E working, says Wall, was an approach that involved engaging enthusiastic and talented people from across the business. It was Contact’s largest agile project to date and saw squads of people brought together to work on aspects of the project, changing the traditional line management structure.

“In particular, we included the customer service representatives in squads and created pilot groups,” says Wall.

“When they gave us the thumbs, we were ready to scale it to a broader audience. I’m a firm believer that you can’t have a good customer experience (CX) with a good employee experience (EX).

Contact’s E2E programme has had over 100 people involved in the customer business unit with plans in train to develop capacity for the generation, trading and human resources business units too.

The New Zealand CIO Awards recognise individuals and teams who have shown leadership, innovation and foresight in their contribution to ICT and business.

ClearPoint are proud sponsors of the Business Transformation through Digital and IT award which honours the achievements of organisations that have successfully planned and executed a Business Transformation initiative or initiatives through the use of digital and disruptive technologies. By using technology to innovate and transform their business they have produced a range of benefits for the organisation. ClearPoint has a real affinity with this category as transforming any business today requires the right people, process, practices, culture, and of course the right technology.

The winner will be announced in Auckland on November 23, 2021.

Peter Griffin

Peter Griffin

Peter Griffin has been a journalist for over 20 years, covering the latest trends in technology and science for leading NZ media. He has also founded Science Media Centre and established Australasia's largest science blogging platform, Sciblogs.co.nz.

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ClearPoint is a digital design and engineering company, creating world-class digital solutions for NZ and Australia’s leading organisations.

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