Enabling a UK water utilities company turnaround its performance to go from worst to best in its field

An independently quoted UK water and waste company, that provides water services to over 3.5 million paying customers and covering a population of approximately 8 million people, was struggling to maintain the standards of service expected by its customers and the environmental and public-health regulatory authorities.

The company was significantly underperforming and was judged to be the worst in its sector. It was also regarded as a ‘special’ measures case by the bodies governing the industry.

The challenge

In 2008 a new management team sought our help to co-deliver the company’s improvement agenda; our challenge was to help turn the company into the best water and waste provider in the UK. This was to be achieved through the development and implementation of an organisation-wide transformation programme that spanned nine counties.

The programme’s focus was on significantly improving processes and levels of customer service, while at the same time engaging staff and building their capability to sustain and continuously improve new ways of working.

How we helped

Our own experience has shown that a high level of employee engagement is the only way to sustain a new process. Our expert practitioners worked side-by-side with both management and team members to firstly understand the challenges and then identify and implement the opportunities for improvement.

Working together, we developed a 16-week programme of activity that would ensure all areas involved in the transformation programme were aligned by a common set of principles and deliverables. This programme was then systematically deployed across each function in both water and waste management operations.

New operating models were introduced, supported by visual management that empowered teams to expose and resolve problems daily. Key performance indicators were also developed and the introduction of communication cells enabled regular reviews of performance against targets. The communications cells also aligned and connected each teams’ performance to the company’s overall business objectives. Continuous improvement audits and reviews were introduced to pick up any necessary actions needed.

For example, in the company’s customer call centre, only 38% of complaints were being resolved first time, causing frustration for the majority of customers. We worked collaboratively with the call centre team, empowering them to find their own answers to the problem of complaint resolution. As a result, silos were removed and processes were simplified and focused on delivering the best outcome for customers. Staff now take ownership for resolving complaints first time round.

Our expert practitioners engaged and coached teams and developed in-house experts in new ways of working, building their capability in being able to review performance, identify issues and solve problems at their own level. Crucially, they provided staff and management with the skills to continuously improve performance in their areas.

The results

In three years, significant results were achieved …

  • The company was totally turned around and received a maximum score for customer service in Ofwat’s 2010 assessment
  • Examples of the much improved and consistent customer experience include an improvement from 38% to 80% of calls being resolved first time in customer complaints; in leakage repair, the age of the oldest job was reduced from 116 days to just 5 days and the average lead-time on fault repair is now down from 8 days to 2.25 days
  • In order to ensure the new ways of working were sustained and continuously improved, we trained 50 of the company’s staff to become their own specialists who are capable of sustaining and continuously improving the new ways of working
  • In addition to significantly improving customer service the improvement programme has delivered £13 Million in operating cost savings