South East Water supplies an incredible 521 million litres of drinking water per day, to 2.2 million people to those in the South East England region. Keeping water flowing across Hampshire, Berkshire, Surrey, Sussex and Kent. Although the organisation is in a unique position, in which their customers don’t have a choice on their water supplier, their vision is clear “Be the water company people want to be supplied by and want to work for.”
To accommodate this, the business is responsive on social media, has a dedicated team of customer support agents at its call center, and offers community events and visits to water treatment sites; ensuring a strong foundation between both the customers and South East Water.
The main focus for South East Water revolves strongly around their customers’ needs, and the quality of service they require. Tanya Sephton, Customer Services Director at South East Water explains “what makes this company unique is not only its commitment to supplying this vital service for 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, but to match it with a supportive and empowering customer experience.”
With this in mind, the company is constantly looking to improve its services for the general public.
South East Water recognised they needed to build a strong foundation through implementing a modern IT infrastructure in order to improve their services overall. However, Richard Bannister, Business Services Systems Manager at South East Water, recalls that “trialing new projects on our legacy infrastructure requires a big investment in time and money. We’d need to procure, buy, and install servers just to get started.” Although South East Water considered upgrading their infrastructure both on premise and internally, they quickly realised that it was going to be far more expensive to try and execute on premise, which ultimately, was one of the catalysts for choosing Google Cloud.
Innovation at the core
After evaluating different options, it was clear that moving to the cloud would be the best route to improve the way they communicate with their customers. When discussing what prompted this decision, Richard explains “As more technologies come out, we’re getting smarter and quicker on how we use those technologies, moving to the cloud offers the best solution for us, especially for new projects.”
Richard also explains that Google Cloud Platform (GCP) can offer South East Water innovative methods of communication with their customers. The use of effective data can be seen with “a trend towards using data smarter, we can start using sentiment analysis and predicting trends while using the likes of Vision API. We’ll be able to look at images that customers send us, and start making smarter choices more quickly, which will mean that customers get a better and quicker all-round service.” Richard recalls.
Another example of their innovation within GCP can be seen through Customer Sentiment Analysis. If this was attempted in-house, it would involve the purchase of a number of servers, installing them, all while making a massive capital investment. Richard argues that it’s a lot of effort to simply try something out. “Whereas if you can embrace something like the cloud, it means you can spin it up really quickly, trial it and move forwards.”
A process that had a vital impact
After being introduced by Google, Richard explains how CTS eased South East Water into their cloud journey, every step of the way. To build the My Account portal, Firebase technology was introduced: the mobile development platform on Google Cloud for building and growing applications. “Firebase is perfect for what we need. We want to build and grow a mobile app, establish access control and authentication to make sure our customers’ data is secure while leveraging the core infrastructure of Google Cloud to build and host our application.” Richard explains.
CTS immersed themselves completely into South East Water’s training process, making the transition as seamless as possible, and enabling the team to take steps towards autonomous development. This was seen with the introduction of a Firebase expert from the CTS team; who assisted Richard’s team in getting started with a series of workshops on how to set up and configure its new platform. Richard recalls that “coming from a tradition of using 20-year-old legacy equipment to developing applications on Google Cloud Platform requires a mind shift. We had a lot to learn, from terminologies to troubleshooting. But CTS distilled the complexities of our project into steps we can now manage ourselves.”
Outcomes to be celebrated
South East Water selected Google Cloud as its platform of choice for building the My Account project from scratch. It was looking for a more agile and cost-effective environment to test new technologies and develop new services. It also wanted services that were easy to integrate with its on-premises hybrid environment, plenty of computer power to test new functionalities, and authentication to support its customer-facing portal.
The project’s success can be seen in the sign-ups to the My Account application which has been doubling every month since it first went live in August 2020. “We’ve had hundreds of thousands of transactions going through the My Account application, and that can be people getting their balance or making a payment. For example, 25,000 people have used it just to update their payment details, instead of calling our contact center. This is excellent news because it shows that they’re embracing the autonomy that we provide with a self-service digital platform,“ Tanya shares.
Previously, it could take up to five days to receive, validate, and action a customer request such as a change of address coming through to the customer service call center. With the My Account portal, South East Water is making it possible for customers to get what they need within 30 seconds of submitting a request. Customers can manage their own accounts online, customer services agents have more time to help customers who need extra support on the phone. “We’ve noticed a real improvement in the experience of both customers and agents since My Account went live, which is the best indication of success for us as a company that always strives to get a 10 out of 10 satisfaction mark on customer services,” says Tanya.
Continuing to elevate customer satisfaction
This is just the start of this partnership. After completing this project, CTS’s and South East Water’s teams have been working together on a proof of concept to explore how they can utilise technologies such as Auto ML and speech-to-text to continue building on the My Account project and beyond. Mary Sabalis, Head of Business Systems at South East Water said “Our business plan over the next five years is centered around innovation and optimising customer interaction. Technology such as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) will be key to us achieving this”.