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The C-MeX Factor

As the industry gears up for the introduction of C-MeX, Kier customer services director Benjamin Bax tells Robin Hackett about the new challenges it poses and why contractors cannot afford to ignore it

Need to know

• The C-MeX pilot design and procurement process was run between
January and March 2018
• The pilot began in April and runs until March 2019
• The C-MeX methodology will be finalised by August 2019
• C-MeX will run in shadow form between April 2019 and March 2020
• C-MeX guidance will be published in March 2020
• C-MeX will run from April 2020 to March 2024

The methodology is still being finalised, but the customer measure of experience – or C-MeX – is being designed with a view to increasing expectations on water companies to drive improvements.

Due to be formally introduced from April 2020, Ofwat will no longer simply assess how well the water companies perform against one another but how well they perform against the leading companies in the UK Customer Satisfaction Index.

A key issue for the water companies is that customers have a tendency to give little thought to reliable everyday services. As Kier customer services director Benjamin Bax points out, negative experiences are far more likely to linger in the mind, and much of the work contractors have to carry out is “sometimes messy, quite often noisy, occasionally smelly and nearly always extremely disruptive”.

As a result, contractors’ actions will often be front and centre when customers are asked to evaluate their water company.

“I think C-MeX is the most important change in the industry at the moment for contractors,” Bax tells WET News. “Our staff and our operations are more visible than the water companies’ largely back-office operations.

“Potentially, if a contractor has a bad site or badly set-up traffic management or is just noisy and unapologetic, that could be a customer’s most memorable experience, and I think it will start to directly influence a company’s C-MeX score.”

Water companies are likely to be increasingly conscious of contractors’ approaches to customer relations during the tender process.

“They need to be aware of the impact that has,” Bax says. “In some ways it’s more challenging for me, but I would rather see a water company client that is really testing what a contractor will do in terms of the customer experience rather than having a problem in two years’ time that nobody foresaw.”

The service incentive mechanism (SIM), introduced in 2010, focused on service recovery: how quickly companies responded to problems, if they kept customers informed proactively and the quality of service interactions.

It remains unclear whether companies can take the same route to success with C-MeX, which will consider the views of customers who have not had cause to contact their water company.

To help understand the significance of the new approach, Kier commissioned independent research surveying 2,000 people across the UK who had not contacted their water company.

The resulting white paper, presented at the WWT Wales Water Conference in Cardiff on 17 May, showed 75 per cent were satisfied with their water company overall, with basic service the top driver for satisfaction, while the biggest cause of dissatisfaction was cost or value for money.

“For the customer service professional, SIM took us so far but it was only about service recovery,” he says.

“The fact that you’ve contacted your water company is because you didn’t understand your bill or you have something wrong with your supply. To be asking customers now who haven’t contacted their water company how satisfied they are overall gives us a much broader view of what customers think.

“The whole point of commissioning that research was that we needed to be aware of how customers’ views are impacted by the work that Kier did.

“When SIM was introduced in 2010, we actually changed our delivery model to make sure we would be able to dig holes and fix pipes but deliver good customer service at the end of it, so C-MeX is fundamental to the design of our AMP7 model.”

The white paper, titled ‘From SIM to C-MeX – new customer service challenges ahead for the water sector’, produced some revealing insights.

For example, significantly less than 1 per cent of customers mentioned wastewater or sewerage at all – presumably owing to the fact it is hidden from view – while a substantial number of respondents answered a question on what their water company could do better with either “nothing” or “don’t know”.

“I think more engagement and marketing will help water companies – where companies have engaged with their customer base, the customers are buying into those values more readily – but you need to add great service into that,” Bax says.

“Doing some of the basic stuff really, really well is what customers are demanding.”

Although the methodology will not be confirmed until August 2019, Bax is confident that C-MeX is a “hugely positive step” for the industry.

“I think customers are becoming more demanding generally, and that’s not because they receive great service from one water company and want it from another,” he says. “In society more generally, service is improving and I think if you’ve received great service from your supermarket or your insurance company, you think: ‘Well, why can’t I get that from my water company?’

“As a sector we need to keep up with the service industry, not other utility companies. Not all water company customers view their transactions with their water companies in the same way as they do when they order something from Amazon – it’s a different experience – but I still think it’s the right aspiration.

“If we don’t aim for that, we’ll never get there.”

This article originally appeared in the June issue of WET News

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