Yarra Valley Water won “Customer Experience Team of the Year” at the Ashton Media Customer Experience Awards 2020. In this interview, Dr Anna Lorenzetto talks about Yarra Valley Water’s CX journey and the initiatives they took to understand their customer needs.
Yarra Valley Water is the largest water utility in Melbourne. Providing water and sanitation services to more than 1.8 million people and 50,000 businesses, its service area encompasses 4,000 square kilometres. Yarra Valley Water is a company owned by the Victorian government. In 2018 Yarra Valley Water made the strategic decision to become a customer centric organisation by creating the Customer Experience Practice, whose job it was to understand customer needs, their pain points and develop solutions to address them.
Dr Anna Lorenzetto came on board as the divisional manager of CX, to lead the Customer Experience (CX) practice. She comments, “I came on board as the practice was being formulated. From the start I was adamant of having the three key capabilities of measurement, experience research and experience research all housed together. It’s those capabilities that enable us to produce continuous customer journey management as well as continuous improvement of customers’ experience.”
Prior to Yarra Valley Water Dr Lorenzetto was teaching at Swinburne University in the School of Design while completing her PHD. The move to Yarra Valley Water gave her the opportunity to work in leading a practice as well as a range of projects from the ground up, she comments, “That’s one of the exciting things about starting up a new practice is that you get to put in place all the foundational elements. For me it was really important to put in place a structure around how we investigate customer experience and then what it is, we had to do to improve it.”
According to Dr Lorenzetto journey mapping is the stepping stone to a greater understanding of experience. She says, “One of the major projects that we initially worked on, the success of which has been a major milestone for us, was a significant program of journey mapping. So far, we’ve identified over 100 journeys that customers move through or could move through in the customer lifecycle. This project has been really crucial for us, as it allows us to deliver effective and efficient customer journey management.”
The importance of customer journey metrics
Customer journey maps identify all the touchpoints with a customer. But just mapping the journey isn’t enough to help improve performance. Dr Lorenzetto advises, “Once you map your journeys you need to apply metrics to those journeys. We’ve developed our own suite of experience metric that we apply to the journeys we are mapping. “
“These metrics are still being refined at the moment, but what we’re looking at measuring is:
- Our customers experience of communication through a journey
- Our customers experience of resolution through a journey
- Their experience of ease through a journey
- Their experience of care through a journey
- Their experience of time through a journey”
By measuring these things at every stage of the customer journey gives the team at Yarra Valley Water powerful insights into what customers are experiencing and what areas need improvement.
Strong commitment from stakeholders
Commitment from stakeholders and senior executives across the organisation has been vital to the success of the CX Practice. “The CX practice at Yarra Valley Water is in one of the greatest positions, because the entire business has been orientated around the customer. We’re an enterprise that puts humans and customer at the centre of what we do. Customer centricity is built into our DNA.”
The practical consequences of this is that the organisation can respond effectively and act decisively in relation to customer feedback. And this is across the entire customer journey and multiple touchpoints, ensuring consistent and frictionless experiences for customers.
“My people are embedded in project teams across organisation to ensure the customers’ perspective and experience is fully researched and any changes or new systems, policies or processes are designed from the customer’s point of view.”
The impact of COVID
The commitment that Yarra Valley Water and the CX practice has to supporting customers meant they were well positioned to manage the impacts of the COVID pandemic. When COVID struck, Yarra Valley Water was able to respond quickly to protect its customers, its employees and the community.
“COVID was an upheaval for everyone. Because we put customers at the centre of everything that we do, we responded swiftly to manage the impacts of the pandemic. We were acutely aware of the ongoing hardship facing many of our customers, both residential and commercial. So we offered extra support and flexibility to help them manage their bills”.
“We worked to reassure the community that their water was safe, safe to drink and that sanitation services would be maintained to a high standard. We had to raise awareness of damaging factors that were caused by non-flushable products entering the sewage system during nationwide toilet paper shortages – educating people what they could use and what they shouldn’t used.”
Yarra Valley Water had moved a substantial part of their workforce offsite to work from home in early March, though there was still a need to support people working in the community.
“Yarra Valley Water, we’ll continue to carefully manage the impacts of coronavirus on our customers, and of course, our business and we have plan robust plans in place to manage a gradual transition to new ways of working when the time is right”, says Dr Lorenzetto.
It’s all about the people
Critical to the success of the Customer Experience Practice is the skills and commitment of the people who work in the team. Dr Lorenzetto comments, “Why I feel really fortunate as a leader of CX is that I have people who genuinely love what they do. They are really passionate about their work and it’s not just a job for them. Customer experience is a great career choice if you’re the sort of person who is curious and loves getting beneath the hood of things. It’s about understanding humans who are fundamentally dynamic, evolving and complex.”
Unfortunately, according to Dr Lorenzetto, as customer experience has increased in popularity the level of expertise applied has been diminished. She says, “Customer experience, over the years, has fallen prey to becoming generic and universal rather than specialist and expert. I need specialist researchers and designers as well as measurement specialists. It’s not a job that anyone can do or do well. You need passion, you need the skill set, the right mind set and the right training.”
“I am very proud of the team and very pleased that the hard work of the Customer Experience Practice at Yara Valley Water has been recognised by the industry and its CX peers. The team is passionate about creating the best experiences for customers and they well deserve the award for their efforts.”