Gabriela Mercore: 86 % of the Customers Are Satisfied with the Services Provided by Sofiyska voda
86 % of the customers are satisfied with the services provided by Sofiyska voda. The increase of the quality of the provided services is proved by 15% increase of satisfied customers compared to the previous year.
Gаbriela Mercore is a graduate of the Law School of Bucharest University and holds a Master’s Degree in European Business Law from Paris 1 Pantheon Sorbonne University, in France. She joined Veolia Group in 2001, where she held top management positions in operational and project management in the field of customer service in Romania and Bulgaria. Since 2013 she is Commercial Director of Sofiyska Voda and also a member of Veolia Center of Excellence for Customer Service.
Tell us how Sofiyska Voda has been working with its customers lately! We know that in the past years you did several changes and introduced innovations in respect of the communication with them.
Our main communication channels with the customers are our call center and the customer service centers. Our call center covers around 77% of the communication, the CSCs – 20%, and written correspondence and the emails through the website – 3%. We have around half a million contacts with the customers per year through all of these channels. In the last few years we implemented several projects for the purpose of optimizing them. We settled the base with a project for implementation of a new customer information system SAP IS-U, which replaced 10 old software, followed by the certification of the customer service processes as per БДС EN ISO 9001: 2015.
The next project was the restructuring of the entire network of customer service centers. We closed the old and small customer service centers, which were not suitable for a higher level of service and opened new centers: Mega Mall in Lyulin R.Q. and TZUM. The customer service center in Business Park Sofia was also renovated. We also kept a small office in the building of the Architecture and Urban Planning Unit, which continues to be specialized only in technical services.
In view of rebranding the customer service centers, we organized a competition for students from two universities in Sofia and the result was the new architectural design of the centers. All of them are close to subway stations and therefore it is easier for the customers to visit us. There is also a comfortable waiting zone, where the customers can charge their mobile phones, use wireless Internet free of charge, watch on the digital screens videos and useful information about the services provided by Sofiyska Voda. We also have a ticketing system, which helps us streamline the flow of visitors. At the same time, it also gives us statistical information about the visits in different time intervals, in order for us to be able to better organize our resources. The feedback from customers is extremely important so there are also devices for providing feedback, whose data we analyze weekly.
We also started a free phone line service and thus we became the first WSS operator providing free of charge call center services to its customers. This happened in June last year. Regarding the call center, this year we introduced a new software platform, which helps us optimize all calls. A very important function is the call back. When the customers do not want or do not have time to wait to be connected with an operator, there is a “call back” option, enabling us to get in touch with them when the first operator becomes available. That helps us reduce the number of missed calls as well as the waiting time of the customers.
The new platform also allows the supervisors to assist the employees, who are still in the process of training, or to connect, directly to the customers, when there are more complicated cases to solve.
After the talks with our operators, customers can again give us feedback whether and to what extent they are satisfied with the conducted conversation. For that purpose, we have several easy questions to the customers whether they are satisfied with the result of the conversation with our employees and whether they have received the information that they needed. As early as the first few months the results from this survey are very good. The study shows that around 95% of the customers are satisfied with the conversation with our operators.
It is also important to say that the key performance indicators relating to the call center are among the best in the industry. If we are talking about a percentage of missed calls, they fall under 3%, which is a very good result. Or the average waiting time of around 10 seconds which is also highly appreciated.
We make efforts to develop the communication channels through the Internet. As of this year we have joined to the online platform “Citizens“, where the customers can send us signals for problems with the WSS network. We have created also Facebook page of Sofiyska Voda, which I personally like very much.
It becomes clear from your words that the percent of the online contacts with your customers is still small. Have you noticed increased interest in this type of communication through your newly-introduced communication channels or internet?
Regarding Facebook– it is a matter of time. We have barely started it - at the end of August. But I think that we will need at least one year to gather more followers on our page. And, respectively, to communicate with them through that channel.
But we have other projects, as well. One of them is to update the webpage of Sofiyska Voda and make a mobile application. It will facilitate, for example, the submission of self-readings, the visualization of the invoices, the online payment of bills and services, as well as the receipt of company notifications in different cases – for example unplanned and planned interruptions of the water supply, submission of readings, issuing of invoices, water meter reading etc. This type of the communication is preferable by the customers and we had proof by the results from two consecutive years` customer focus groups related to this project, in order to identify their expectations are in terms of these online communication channels and services. Even now on the webpage our customers can register an account, where they can see their invoices and other useful information.
Through the new website and the mobile application, we want to make the entire cycle easier for the customer. To give one example: The customers will receive notification that during a given interval of time self-readings could be submitted, and through the application it will take 3-4 seconds. Then they will receive notifications that the invoice has been issued and they will be able to see the invoice and the data registered in it. And press the ‘pay’ button in the end, I hope.
What the customers of the focus group share as important for them is that there is easily accessible information about the emergency water supply interruptions.
I should point out here that in connection with the unplanned water supply interruptions when the customer is registered on our website, there is an option for receiving notifications by e-mail, SMSs and through “Citizens” platform.
There is a mobile customer service center that has operated for a few months now, which visits the populated areas around Sofia? How does it help customers?
It is something new for Bulgaria – a van equipped as an office or an office on wheels. It offers all types of services, which we provide in the customer service centers, with one exception only – it accepts only card payments. The mobile center visits the villages near Sofia. And I could say that the feedback received from the customers and the mayors is quite positive. As for customers who live in the suburbs of Sofia it is not that easy to visit our customer service centers and that is why we visit them. The information about the schedule of the visits is available on www.sofiyskavoda.bg as well as in the information system in the Call center. The schedule is available also in the municipalities. Moreover, every month when we visit any of the villages we give information about our next visit.
Has the number of the visits in the CSC increased?
In general, as compared to the past year, the number of the visits is a little bit less. But it is a normal tendency as the number of the calls to the call center increases and the people are provided with the needed services and information through this channel. And it is a lot easier for the customers to call instead of visiting a customer service center.
Most often, in the customer service centers, administrative services are sought such as opening and changing a customer account, technical services or resolving more complex cases, when there is need for a more detailed explanation in person. When there are problems and questions regarding water supply, water supply interruption etc, then the customers prefer to contact us over the phone.
What is different is the distribution of the number of the visits between the current customer service centers. The most frequently visited is the one in TZUM. Maybe, as it is in the center of the city, a lot of people find it convenient to visit us there. But because of this, there is a risk of overcrowding and prolonged waiting time. In that relation, I recommend to our customers to go to Mega Mall – Lulin which is even more spacious. Customers who request from us technical services can go to our office in the building, where the Architecture and Urban Planning Unit is situated, and which is specialized to provide such services.
When are you launching the mobile application?
The project will start next year with a procedure for selection of the company that will develop a new website and a mobile application. Our projects are very ambitions and the new online tools must have an interface compatible with more systems that we use. As, for example, through the website and the mobile application we want to provide the customers with the opportunity for online booking a visit in the customer service center, which means an interface with the ticketing system, which is already functioning in them. Moreover, we want to make an online chat available for customers, which means interface with the contact center platform. At the moment, the new contact center platform is used for phone conversations only, but when we launch the new website and the mobile application, we will use it for multichannel communication, including chat, web and social platforms. The contacts from the different channels for connection with the companywill be distributed among the operators with the relevant knowledge and skills.
What do your surveys show about customer satisfaction?
There are different ways to analyze feedback. Every year we make external surveys regarding customer satisfaction. The used methods are: interviews with about 800 customers as per one questionnaire, which is quite long, as we want to include more aspects in the survey. This year we are very happy as well that the evaluations from these surveys show the result from our efforts during the previous years. The percentage of the overall customer satisfaction is 86%, whereas in the past years it varied between 72% and 76%. It is considerable increase only within a period of one year.
I have already mentioned that in the CSC there are platforms for feedback and in the call center – automatic evaluation of the phone calls. We analyze the results every week. But for us receiving the feedback is everyday work, because every interaction with our customers shows what they need in terms of information or which are the things that they dislike. That is why we carefully analyze each complaint; for me this is extremely important, so that we know how to improve customer service even more and meet the expectations of our customers.
Has the number of complaints decreased once customer satisfaction has increased?
The detailed monthly analysis show reduction. The percent of reduction of the complaints is one of the key performance indicators that we track. Generally, from all the customer contacts, only 11% of them are complaints. Furthermore, not all complaints reveal a fault of the company, so not all of them are grounded, but still they are complaints and we must consider them and see what has not been done as expected, what could be done to improve the services. The number of the complaints decreases indeed; this year we report a decrease of around 12% compared to the previous year.
Are there things which the customers do not know with regard to the company`s activities? There are indeed matters related to the activities of the company, which are not widely known. The first thing is that what is not visible for the customers is usually the entire infrastructure, through which we provide the services of water supply, sewerage and water treatment. Almost all of our investments are underground and people do not see them. Thus the customers perceive only the created inconveniences, when we excavate the streets or interrupt water supply. But without it, we cannot improve the quality of the service. Something else, which is commented, is the water tariff. But what is less known is that water tariff in Sofia is one of the lowest in the country. Moreover, customers do not pay the water itself, but for the service of water supply from the dam to their homes We do not think about it, but it is a fact that when the people go and buy mineral water, they do not take into account what is the difference in the price of 1 liter of mineral water and 1 cubic meter (which is 1,000 m) of tap water. And the price of the two is almost one and the same, but we are talking about totally different quantities. And the water, supplied to the homes by Sofiyska Voda, is of high quality and not packed in plastics.
Also, when they refer to the water bill, people think only of the water, or the water supply services, without taking into account that the service is most of the time a much more complex one, including also sewerage and treatment of the wastewater.
The wastewater of Sofia goes into the wastewater treatment plant in Kubratovo. This plant is an example of circular economy even for many other wastewater treatment plants of Veolia (an owner of Sofiyska Voda AD – editor’s note) around the world. It does not only treat water and returns the treated water back to the Iskar River, but the sludge extracted is used to produce biogas, which is utilized into energy, used for the operation of the plant. Thus, it is completely self-sufficient in terms of energy. Our idea is our network to be fully independent. Thus, we will contribute to the preservation of the environment and the renewal of sensitive resources.
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