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“It’s About Doing the Right Thing”
Part two of CEO Mark Horsley’s story of how he revolutionized Customer Experience at Northern Gas Networks.
Communicating with the workforce on a one-to-one basis in a relaxed environment was absolutely key to making the initiative a success, despite the time constraints, according to Horsley.
Towards the end of year one, Horsley embarked on his program of face-to-face meetings; “it was a massive time commitment” – with a peer-nominated groups of 40 employees, who were enthusiastic advocates for what he was seeking to achieve in terms of customer improvement. This overall group was broken down into smaller groups of ten, and Horsley would have a meal with them at the end of each session.
And the only embargoes on that were that you didn’t break any safety rules or any governance rules but, if you thought it was the right thing to do for the business, ‘let’s just do it!’– and that created momentum.
“It was really adult to adult: I talked about my career – I’ve had my ups and downs in my career, as most people do, moving jobs and various things – and just bringing an authenticity and a humility to the business; and turning what I felt was a real parent-child relationship into an adult-adult relationship where people feel able to express themselves, do things that are the right thing to do in the business without asking permission, necessarily. And the only embargoes on that were that you didn’t break any safety rules or any governance rules but, if you thought it was the right thing to do for the business, ‘let’s just do it!’– and that created momentum.”
At the end of every session with each group of ten, Horsley would ask participants to nominate others so the original group of 40 eventually expanded to around 300 – so he had to do the meetings in large groups – and it “really just took on a life of its own”. People would ask why they hadn’t been selected and were told that was because their peer group hadn’t selected them. You would slowly see these colleagues change their behavior and attitude as they realized they were missing out on exciting opportunities. They saw people around them attending events, taking part in projects and developing skills and they wanted to be part of it. Eventually they would be invited to join the inspire network.
It’s the ownership within the business that’s created it, and the stimulus and the focus of the leadership team, and I never take my focus off it.
Meanwhile, at the same time as changing behavior internally, the organization was aiming to push the envelope in terms of its behavior with customers. “It’s just grown from there, where it’s become really proactive and the colleagues in the organization have set their own teams up now, wanting to do the right thing. What that did was really create a focus, a team spirit. They have a 10 o’clock call in the morning and a call in the evening (all self-driven) to review, and they’re all helping each other.
He stresses: “It’s the ownership within the business that’s created it, and the stimulus and the focus of the leadership team, and I never take my focus off it.”
Metrics, incentives and motivators
How does he monitor progress other than by winning awards? “We’re independently measured by the regulator on our customer satisfaction. We’re measured across three activities: replacing pipes – 440km of pipes which we replace every year; our emergency response – we respond to about 100,000 calls every year; and new connections. However, we don’t feel that’s enough, so we will have extended that out by the end of October to all touch points within the business.
How successful is this approach? Horsley claims that NGN is ranked 1st overall in the industry and is ranking in the “9s out of 10” on all metrics.
The company is incentivized to perform by the regulators, but that is not the focus for the organization. “I couldn’t care less about that; that’s not what gets us out of bed to do it. We treat targets set by the regulator as the bare minimum for us to perform against. The real challenge for us is to reach way above and beyond these targets.” Staff terms and conditions have, however, been reconfigured with reduced salaries, with the shortfall replaced by a substantial bonus element, triggered by performance across a balanced scorecard and also aligned to customer outcomes.
“What that does is create a tension but it hasn’t changed the way we’ve performed; it’s largely been around the hearts and minds. We do try to link our incentives to what we get as an outcome from those customers but I don’t think that that, personally, has been the driver. What the guys are more excited about is texting each other to find what the scores are every month.”
As the leader of a heavily regulated organization, Horsley is adamant that regulation is not a barrier to change. There are more lessons for pharma here. “I always say that we should run the business in the way we want to run the business, and fit the regulation around it.
“Why would you blame the regulator? You know the rules of engagement. Don’t hide behind those rules of engagement; work with them. But actually do the right thing and you’ll find that if you do the right thing, regulation isn’t there to stop you doing it. You could say there are lots of excuses why you can’t do it, but in reality you can do it; it doesn’t really matter what type of organization you’re in.”
So what are the key lessons for executives and the areas on which they need to focus when embarking on the CXM journey? Horsley is clear: “Behavior, recruitment, retention– all those things, I guess, sit around the leadership model. So, really, engagement and leadership are the two fundamental things,” he concludes.
Mark Horsley will be presenting on Customer Experience at Multichannel Customer Experience 2015.
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