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JPS comes a long way

Serious strides in customer service


Tuesday, October 03, 2017

Who would have thought that the company once known as “the most hated company in Jamaica” a few years ago would be designated Customer Service Ambassador by the Jamaica Customer Service Association (JaCSA) for National Customer Service Week 2017?

To recall the strained relationship between Jamaica Public Service (JPS) and its customers, requires harking back to a time where customer service complaints were both lacerating and rampant. The cloud of dissatisfaction with the customer service nullified any meaningful engagement that the company could have had with its stakeholders and customers. That was then.

Fast-forward to 2017. There's a story of a customer having received a monthly bill that they considered outrageous. Clearly agitated at the perceived wrong, the customer contacts the company and hopes for a fair resolution. Although in the end the bill was indeed correct, and had to be paid, the customer is far from irate but comments that the customer service provided was “very good”.

Everything that was promised, including the response time following queries was dead-on, and the service agent was described as “very helpful and professional”. In fact, the company worked with her to find the source contributing to her hefty bill, which was corrected immediately. This is one of several stories you would not have heard previously.


Customer Service Awards

A further testament to how far JPS has now come is that the company was the 2017 recipient of five out of seven category prizes at the Private Sector Service Excellence Awards — Monitoring and Measurement; Leadership and Strategy; Service Excellence Charter and Standards; Recognition and Reward; and International Benchmarking. The company was also the overall winner of the Customer Service Excellence Award for the Best Large-Sized Business.

A collaborative venture between the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ) and JaCSA, the initiative is aimed at recognising companies that prioritise service and excel in customer care.

When and what caused this seismic shift in relations between the JPS and its customers and other stakeholders? All fingers point to 2013 when the decision was made to further elevate customer service as one of the strategic priorities of the organisation.

A big part of this priority was the creation of the Customer Experience Department, which would have the sole objective of defining higher standards of customer service, including ways of measuring these standards to ensure that all targets meet and exceed the needs of the JPS customer base.

“The culture change towards customer service excellence definitely started at the top of the organisation with the inclusion of the area as one of our strategic priorities. This signalled to everyone that customer service excellence was important to the organisation and senior management leadership,” former head of JPS's Customer Experience Department Gina Tomlinson-Williams explained.

International Benchmarking

Building this customer-centric foundation entailed reviewing customer service standards globally and establishing benchmarks suitable to the JPS landscape. This involved consulting with JD Power & Associates, a global marketing information service company, which does assessments of utilities across the board and has several benchmarks. Additionally, benchmarking was done locally with the Customer Service Academy of Jamaica, which conducted an assessment of the organisation and assisted in defining a strategy around customer service.

Top on the agenda was dedicated training to ensure that all staff had a collective understanding of what was meant by excellent customer service. This move required the department to travel across the island to train all front line and technical staff who interface with customers on the road. Third-party JPS contractors were also exposed to training, as they, too, represent the organisation.

“We imparted our definition of customer service and also ingrained the organisation's culture of customer service,” Tomlinson-Williams stressed. In fact, this training is encapsulated in the company-wide interaction guide called GREAT (Greet, Respond with respect, Empathise, Adjust and act, Thank). And this training is ongoing.

The next phase involved instituting a matrix detailing the standards as well as measurements. This process included employing monthly customer satisfaction surveys on field service technician performance; quarterly mystery shopper surveys in every parish and the Customer Care Centre; annual customer satisfaction survey; mini satisfaction surveys conducted in each parish office and customer focus groups that helped influence adjustments to the pre-paid meter initiative.

“We do these [focus groups] on areas where we know there are the most issues, and where we have been addressing these issues. We thereafter set targets for the different units to achieve,” Tomlinson-Williams added.


Staff Recognition

With the new modality of customer service culture comes the need to incentivise staff. In light of this, there is the recognition and rewarding of staff as well as third-party contractors. There is the Employee and Manager of the Quarter Awards, which recognise an employee and manager each quarter, who are nominated by their colleagues for demonstrating qualities in areas such as service excellence, innovation, teamwork and leadership.

This is in addition to the Quarterly Reward and Recognition Programme covering customer service, which is for front line staff based on the performance in the Customer Care Centre. Interestingly, there is also ad hoc recognition of individuals, especially coming from customer testimonials.

There is no mistaking the positive effect that the change in the customer service culture has had on customers and stakeholders. A commissioned research by the Office of Utilities Regulation noted that JPS is the most improved utility. Customers have benefited from a plethora of initiatives including the mobile app and Early Payment Incentive scheme.

Even more telling about the impact is that customers are now, more than ever, interacting with the company through a variety of media as it has strived to become more accessible. In 2016 alone, JPS made over 34 million impressions across the traditional social media channels ( Facebook, Twitter and Instagram). These are indeed heady times for JPS.

Tomlinson-Williams assured that the company certainly would not rest on its laurels. “While the accolades were good, they were not about how our customers rate us, it was more about what we are doing to improve their experience. We are benchmarking ourselves against the best of the best so there will always be more to do,” she emphasised.


— Audrey Williams is media and communications manager, JPS