In this article we outline some key learnings from energy retailers that are relevant for many customer service organisations who are migrating their businesses to new SaaS platforms. Register here to ensure you don’t miss future related content. 

The migration to Software as a Service (SaaS) platforms has given energy retailers the opportunity to fundamentally re-shape their businesses around a modern “universal agent” model. A universal multiskilled agent has the tools, the knowledge, and the empowerment to resolve all customer queries at point of contact. This model removes the need for hand-offs, backlogs, and delays to processes, and at its best, can drive excellent customer service and low cost to serve. However, moving to this ideal end state and realising the benefits requires root and branch culture change which organisations can find difficult to achieve. It is also important to ensure appropriate support of complex and vulnerable customers is maintained within this new operating model. 

Historically, utility customer service models have split simple customer contact (front office) activities from non-customer contact work (back office). Teams focus on a small part of the overall customer lifecycle and become experts in the restricted number of activities that they carry out regularly. But they may not understand the impact that these activities have on the broader customer journey. Customers can end up ‘bouncing’ between departments, none of whom are able to resolve the customer’s problem. A universal agent model seeks to provide a single point of contact and resolution for the customer. It empowers agents to solve problems and case manage them through to closure – resulting in improvements to customer and employee satisfaction, whilst reducing cost to serve. Through our support of organisations on this journey, we have identified some key learnings: 

Operating model pragmatism 

A move to the universal agent model takes time and will not happen overnight. We have observed throughout the industry that retailers have been most successful when they have recognised that certain activities may require ring-fencing. This can be due to their complexity and certain vulnerable, complex, and high value customers may require segmenting out to specialist teams able to provide an appropriate level of service. The decisions which are made as part of this segmentation will be driven by what is important to your company, your target customers, your values, and your business strategy. 

Agility and flexibility 

Aligned to the view of pragmatism, leadership must remain agile. The model is never ‘done,’ rather part of its value is in its ability to constantly adjust and flex to respond effectively to customer demand. Whilst a key tenet of the universal agent model is minimising large, bloated teams of non-customer facing staff and unwieldy red tape, there is a need for lean supporting capabilities. These monitor and optimise the model, both in real time and longer-term to realise the benefits of the transition. 

"System change alone will not bring benefits. However, a SaaS platform, combined with an agile operating model and culture transformation can led to a sea-change in customer experience and cost to serve."

Sarah Smith, Director in Retail Energy

Data driven and AI decision making 

Data underpins all aspects of the model to enable the business to make rapid decisions and leverage its new flexibility. AI can and will handle even more decision making without any human interference. Transitioning to an AI and data driven business requires a disciplined data operating model and governance with clearly defined and understood data that flows from leadership to agent and vice versa. Data literacy and culture are also essential with a training programme, reinforced by data stewardship across the business. 

Culture change at the top 

Empowering agents and creating a more flexible organisation is dependent on business leaders embracing agile leadership and therefore enabling accountability and responsibility to be spread throughout the organisation. Failing to enable this culture change will result in implementing the operating model without the needed ways of working and therefore missing the benefits. 

Integrating external service partners 

Energy retailers transitioning their operating model will need to engage with their service partners for customer service to align on performance metrics and ways of working in the new world. Energy retailers have a choice to make about their outsource partners. Either they can choose to do apply a simplified element of the universal agent model for certain customer segments or utilise them as more specific conventional additional resource. Additionally, the SaaS systems give retailers additional flexibility as access can be provided directly rather than through third party programmes which simplifies ramping resource up and down. 

Fit the model to the business needs 

Retailers need to avoid falling into the trap of constraining their business to how the SaaS model operates. When migrating to a new operating model and ways of working, retailers need to make some decision. What do they want to take “out of the box” from the platform and what elements do they want to keep or further develop in house to maintain their own distinctiveness? We have shown that a universal agent model is not necessarily ‘universal’ and that you can create your own ‘secret sauce’ through the decisions that are made in defining the best operating model for your business. 

We will look to expand up on this theme of where and how you build and maintain competitive differentiation in a world of SaaS in future articles.

For any questions on this article please contact Ralph Berendt, Sarah Smith or Toby Thurgood.  

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