Articles & Case Studies

A Better Way to Communicate With Customers

Posted: Wednesday 18th May 2011

Managing an effective billing process is a critical activity for every utility company. Guaranteed despatch and timely delivery are paramount, but there is also the need to manage environmental issues and data security. One water provider has found a state-of-the-art billing solution that is not only improving performance in all these areas, but also saving money and transforming the way bills are viewed. They are no longer financial statements, but also a means of effectively communicating with customers in a way they appreciate.

Southern Water is one of the largest water utility providers in the UK, supplying fresh drinking water and treating and recycling wastewater across Sussex, Kent, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight.

Recognising the need to improve customer communications, the company sought a new partner to supply a printing and mailing solution for bills and other critical customer communications.

A total solution

Following rigorous investigation of the market, Southern Water decided to appoint Stralfors UK, an award-winning provider of technology-based print and communication services, which was able to provide a complete solution encompassing design, stationery, printing, mailing and archiving.

“We needed a printing supplier that is able to fulfil all our printing needs in terms of bills, letters and plastic payment cards totalling about six million items a year,” said Liz Barnard, Printing and Mailing Manager at Southern Water. “Because of the variety and size of our customer base, we issue invoices daily and need a system that’s extremely reliable.”

Digital technique improves customer service

One of the biggest improvements to customer service is a result of Stralfors’ ability to collate a number of documents into the same envelope, enabling customers to receive all information relating to their account at the same time.

As well as improving the whole customer experience, this has cut the number of envelopes Southern Water sends to customers by seven per cent, reducing postage costs dramatically.

Phil Luckett, Account Director at Stralfors, explains how the process works: “Every day we receive data from Southern Water which is then processed, printed and mailed. We have highly intelligent data processing applications that enable us to take various different print files and consolidate them into a single production stream. So instead of receiving a bill and another letter relating to the bill in separate envelopes within a few days of one another, the customer now receives it in a single mailing.

“Also, the data can be used for multiple media types, so at the same time as creating each paper bill we send a digital copy to Southern Water’s Customer Contact Centre.”

These are stored in an electronic archive, enabling Southern Water to deal with any bill-related queries from customers over the phone or by email more effectively.

“This solution is a major enabler to support our aim of ‘first time customer resolution’,” said Liz. “Our Contact Centre agents can view a copy of all bills and correspondences that have been sent to the customer and if necessary, they can quickly print a copy and send it by post again.”

Improved design and personalised bills

At the start of the contract, Southern Water worked with Stralfors to completely redesign the bills to make them more informative and customer friendly. Each bill is also far more targeted to the individual, containing a number of personalised key messages relating to the customer’s charges, payment plans and meter details.

Improving the customer experience

In order to plan for how many calls to expect from customers with queries, it is vital that any utility company can rely on timely delivery of bills.Liz added: “We aim to be as efficient as possible in forecasting likely contacts to utilise our available staff effectively. The systems we have in place to aid this are another example of how the overall experience has improved for our customers since we revamped our billing process.

“Stralfors has been able to demonstrate an excellent understanding of our expectations connected with quality, innovation, control and consistency. As a company we take our environmental responsibilities seriously and Stralfors has demonstrated a pro-active and impressive approach to these. We have gone from using bills simply as an invoice to using it as a way of engaging with our customers in a meaningful way.”

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