Strengthening customer & client communication with digital technologies

The rate at which today's digital software applications are developing is phenomenal and digital efficiency is a key component to the success of every business.

Each day we see new updates and innovative systems being introduced. This allows the tremendous opportunity for businesses to get an edge over their competition. On the flipside, you can also get left behind if you ignore the ever-changing challenges.

As a specialist contractor striving for continuous improvement, we have worked hard to transform the legacy of project management and communications. The challenges that we have developed technologies for have created an unparalleled complimentary digital technology stream to our business.

In 2004 a solution was developed that would provide clients with the ability to monitor multiple sites from their desk, tablet or mobile. This software became known as Client Portal. Clients can log in to individual projects and access live updates of works on their sites. A commenting feature allows site staff and project management to communicate throughout the job. Other features allow the users to view and store audit, testing, quotation, safety and any other documents that may be important in creating a complete online project archive. Water industry clients found that communication cycles were shortened, and project costs were reduced considerably. Soon companies were calling for additional innovative tools to manage projects and assets.

Following the success of Client Portal, we were set the task of creating another version of the portal, designed to communicate directly to Northumbrian Water’s customers, as a public-facing portal. The development of this customer-facing portal ‘intouch’ for NWG became known as ‘Community Portal’, which is featured on the Essex & Suffolk and Northumbrian Water websites.

The Community Portal, enables water companies to share project information and progress with their customers and local communities. Affected residents, business owners and commuters all have easy access to the project information along with real-time diary style updates for the progress of the works and a schedule of expected completion dates. Water companies are also able to notify customers of any potential disruptions. Customer contact centres and social media managers can quickly divert enquiries to the portal, where any questions or concerns can be posted using the comments function. For those who may be affected by site works, the portal allows customers to follow and engage in project progress. 

Improving customer engagement is not only very satisfying, it is crucial, especially for those who failed to make the PR19 Fast Track list due to poor customer experience strategies. Many other benefits can be seen from the use of Community Portal, including substantial cost savings for the water company. It also allows utilities to be proactive, which consequently drives up customer satisfaction, whilst rapidly reducing both the time spent on each enquiry and the multiple contacts that expose utilities to regulatory penalties. 

With PR19 being next in line to create challenges within the industry, we have been continually developing solutions within the Community Portal for Northumbrian Water Group, to not only improve customer experience but to also address the issue around leakage targets. In collaboration with Northumbrian Water, a new feature within Community Portal was launched and their customers are now able to report leaks online. Customers can also follow the progress of the repair works related to any leaks that have been reported.

“The community portal is an excellent way to communicate with customers ensuring they all get the same message at the same time, the portal’s ease of use makes communicating with the project team and customers more efficient in delivering excellent customer service, getting it right first time every time”.

Linzie Pentleton, Asset Investment Programme Manager (NWG)

The success of this project ultimately led to the creation of ITS Stonbury: a small company with a team of experienced developers, dedicated to creating solutions for companies within the water and construction industry. 

Making a digital difference

Digital technology is a fast-moving world and we have never been ones to stand still. It is believed that we were the very first water industry company to use and store site files electronically. No more messy paperwork and time-consuming data entry. This software saw Stonbury reporting substantial cost savings and production efficiencies.

“Through the commercialisation of ‘inprogress’ and eSite we are using over a decade of experience in digital site management to benefit utilities and other engineering companies. Modern cloud-based systems make firms still using only paper-based site files old fashioned in the digital era. The introduction of ‘intouch’ takes our in-house engineering and digital technology expertise to the interface with utility customers, which will be of critical importance for water companies in hitting their regulatory targets in AMP7. These are exciting developments, not only for ITS Stonbury, but for the whole water industry".

James Stonor, CEO

Further embracing digital efficiencies, another development in the pipeline is Stonbury World: an internal management system that integrates all business areas to improve management across the company. This bespoke software will consolidate functions from all aspects of the business, including records for human resources, clients, projects, sites, assets and equipment. It will also include the Stonbury World App which replaces the electronic site files system – eSite. This will be a cloud service that stores details, including health and safety records ready for download as required. Testing of this software is expected later this year.