Utilising voice technology to drive engagement in the water industry

The Problem

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.

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.

Not content with merely complying with the minimum standards of their regulatory commitments, Northumbrian Water 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.

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The Solution

While Northumbrian Water often scored highly on their customer satisfaction, the industry as a whole has historically been averse to technological innovation.

To break down those barriers, 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.

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The Product

Working with our in-house AI Practice Lead and developers, we rapidly built a working prototype of the Alexa skill that utilised Natural Language Processing (NLP) to show the potential of voice in the context of the water industry.

Following the success of the prototype, we worked together with Northumbrian Water on a full version that would be released to customers on the Alexa Skills Store.

Launching in May 2019, the Alexa skill provides customers with the capability to check for maintenance work and water supply issues in their area using just their voice.

Their Alexa-enabled device can also provide updates relating to ongoing issues in their area informing customers when work has been completed or when their water supply has been restored.

Users can also find out an array of interesting facts about their household water supply which, in the long run, can encourage them to adapt their habits and save money.

"They demonstrated knowledge of our industry as well as insight into the digital world that lend to innovative solutions. Now we feel like they’re a part of the team and we’re happy to bring them in for future challenges."

Martin Jackson, Head of IS Strategy and Enterprise Architecture, Northumbrian Water

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