United Utilities ‘Keeping Customers at  the Heart’

United Utilities supply water to the North West of England and have a contact centre in  Cumbria dedicated to managing billing enquiries, payments and account information.

How We Helped:

As a refocus and refresh on customer service Ember was invited to design a learning  intervention for 200 contact centre staff in Cumbria.  The brief to Ember was to make the  programme ‘fun, interactive and themed around United Utilities’ existing Customers at the Heart slogan, but preferably from a new angle’.
The measure of success would be a 20%  improvement in agent ‘call quality scores’, measured  by coaches using a structured assessment form.

What We Did:

After two days of on-site analysis to understand the  role and the training needs fully, Ember designed an accelerated learning programme called ‘Pulse8’ which took the ‘Heart’ theme into a new medical  domain. 8 skills and behaviours crucial to customer  service were identified and these became the main  structure of the programme: Listening | Confident Communication | Ownership | Proactivity | Initiative | Rapport | Accuracy | Respect.


The Concept:

It was vital to the success of the session that the  principles of accelerated learning were followed to  ensure everyone learned as much as possible in  their one day of training and that the focus and attention of the relatively young workforce was maintained throughout.
Powerpoint was banished, instead  learning was created and reviewed using printed jigsaws, recorded audio, creating posters, unscrambling   anagrams  and  competitive team quizzes.  The listening exercise involved the participants working  in pairs, one person with a stick on which to spin a coloured plastic plate, the other person reading a  set of non-work related facts from a list. After 3 minutes of listening (and plate spinning) the spinner would be given 2 minutes to recall as many facts as they could, and would receive one point for each fact recalled fully and accurately. A note would be made of the score before the pair would change places and begin again with a different fact card.
Afterwards they participants were asked what they  felt about the exercise. Answers such as ‘it was hard  to do two things at once’ ‘it was distracting hearing  lots of similar conversations going on around me’ ‘it  felt like a memory test more than a listening test’  were common and exactly what was needed to draw  out the key learning points.

The Concept Continued:

The plate and stick represented the computer system and the fact sheet is the information from the customer.
Participants were asked ‘Which are you getting points for?’ The learning being that listening to the customer is more  important than navigating the system. Ideally an experienced adviser becomes able to do two things at once, but until  then, participants were encouraged to focus on the customer first, system second. Hearing lots of similar conversations  is just like being out on the floor – we need to keep focused –techniques for minimising distractions were then shared  by the trainer. You only need to memorise when you are not able to write things down – something you can do when  on the telephone. The customer may not always give information in the order that the system wants it, so rather than  trying to remember everything or even worse –asking a customer to repeat themselves –use a jotter to make notes.
The other 7 behaviours were explored and throughout the session ‘pulse checks’ were made where participants were  encouraged to reflect on their learning and how they would apply it and record it on an action plan. This action plan  was reviewed by their manager following the training as part of an informal debrief and then fed into their personal  development plan.


The Results:

Following the completion of the programme the target of a 20% increase in call quality was exceeded with agents  consistently scoring 100%. Follow-up coaching over the coming months ensured this was sustained and new learning  became embedded.
Feedback from team managers included:
“Two of our team members have attended Pulse8 this week and have said they feel a real benefit, they said they feel a  lot more confident handling calls. I have done 2 side by side call qualities on each of them this afternoon and have  seen a massive improvement they both scored 100% twice and seem to have a new outlook and really positive attitude.”
“I have just completed 3 side by side call qualities on Alistair and he scored 3 consecutive 100%! This is an amazing  achievement for him – also 2 out of the 3 calls were not standard queries and I would class in the more difficult call  category and he handled it well.”
The programme sponsor, Michelle Cheeseman, concluded:
“Based on my initial observations, evaluations and feedback, the design of the Pulse 8 course & delivery by Carolyn Blunt from Real Results have both met & exceeded my requirements.”


Following this project Real Results was awarded a contract to train a further 5000 employees across the wider United  Utilities business in 'Customers at the Heart'. This project went on to win 'Best Customer Experience Programme' at  the CallNorthWest Awards and delivered measurable improvements in regulatory league table positions, employee  engagement scores and customer satisfaction scores for United Utilities.
Speaking about the experience Mike Taylor of United Utilities said “Real Results delivered tailored job specific training  across our complex business that has never been achieved before. We have never had such positive feedback. I have  no hesitation in recommending Real Results.” (Mike Taylor, Key Account Manager, United Utilities).

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Ember Group is a specialist consulting, analytics and professional services group dedicated to transforming customer engagement and CX strategies and operations for major brands globally. With offices in London and Toronto, we deliver solutions to help organisations realise their customer service vision and increase commercial value from their service operations.

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