Northumbrian Water provides water and sewerage services to over 2.7m people in the North East of England, making them one of the UK’s largest utility companies.
They set themselves the goal of becoming the utility industry’s most innovative company and they turned to us for guidance in reshaping the way they think and engage with their customers.
User group outreach
Usability bug revie
As a regulated monopoly, the water supplier has a raft of requirements outlined by the water regulator OFWAT that it must comply with, including areas such as customer experience, innovation and stakeholder engagement.
Additionally, they were finding that resource at their call centres was often taken up by simple queries about information available on their digital channels.
They asked us to take a fresh look at their business to explore new channels that would help them surpass their regulatory requirements and improve customer experience.
While Northumbrian Water often scored highly on their customer satisfaction, the industry as a whole has historically been averse to technological innovation.
Our multidisciplinary team carried out discovery workshops and design sprints with the team at Northumbrian Water to provide new perspectives on their organisational challenges and how digital technologies might help to mitigate them.
As opening up new engagement channels with their customers was identified as a priority, the team decided that an Alexa skill, which would be a first in the water industry, would provide a unique opportunity to keep customers engaged and provide a more personal way to communicate service updates in their area.
As part of the user research conducted with customers, it soon became apparent that the most desired feature by users was information about water usage and any nearby road disruptions.
NWL already had a database of facts which were used on the website, these were suitably trimmed for use in the Alexa skill. There was no up-to-date database of disruptions, so instead, the live customer care Twitter feed was continuously scraped by an Azure Logic App to pick up rolling announcements of issues at various postcodes around the North East and inserted into a database on Azure using the postcode (for example DH1) as a key field.
Following the launch of an internal prototype, the Alexa Skill was eventually launched to Northumbrian Water customers on the Alexa Skills Store.
Amongst a range of features, the skill provides customers with the capability to check for maintenance work and water supply issues in their area using just their voice. It also allows Alexa-enabled devices to provide updates relating to ongoing issues in their area when work has been completed or when their water supply has been restored.