Kevin McCullough went undercover at npower

Kevin McCullough went undercover at npower

This is guest blog post is from Kevin McCullough, Chief Operating Officer of RWE, the company which owns npower.

Kevin took part in Channel 4’s Undercover Boss series, where he went incognito and worked alongside npower’s customer service department to see what things are like ‘on the shop floor’. We’ll hand over to Kevin to tell you more about what it was like…

Going undercover was an amazing experience – one I’ll never forget. I wanted to do it because I know that we’ve got some amazing staff but equally I know that we don’t always get everything right. What better way is there to really experience life at the sharp end of our business?

The following is an extract from the diary I kept while I was undercover, to give you an idea of what was going through my mind:

Day 3 undercover and I finally get to see up close and personal how we deal with our customers!

Today I’m at Thornaby in the North East with the npower complaints team.

Where do I start? Turning up at the customer contact centre, my first role is that of a casual pedestrian walking up and down looking excited at another day of undercover skulduggery. Based on the number of people staring, downtown Thornaby is clearly not used to film crews and such a good looking mystery ‘celebrity’ pounding their streets gazing longingly at an old brick building! Time to move indoors to meet one of the teams, which handle customer complaints … This is seriously nerve racking!

As soon as I entered the building, I was greeted by Claire, one of the managers, who in turn introduced me to Steph.

First impressions? I can safely say I was scared witless (inside at least).

The whole floor could see the filming taking place and natural curiosity meant that everyone within reasonable ear shot was listening in. Steph, though, most certainly wasn’t put off by this!

Steph is a four year plus veteran of our customer complaint department – and she’s very good. Within five minutes, she announced that I would be talking to ‘real, live’ customers today to make sure their complaint was resolved. I suppose I knew that was coming but when the words came out I felt sick with nerves.

I asked what training someone normally got before they did their first live customer call and was told six weeks: I had 20 minutes!

This was not a level of responsibility I’d expected so quickly but Steph assured me that it was coming my way and that (in the nicest possible way) I had no choice.

Picture the scene:
*Full film crew of 6 people all in the immediate vicinity.
*In full view (and ear shot) of an entire floor of customer care agents.
*Me being told to get my headset on as I was ‘going live’. Face to face I can and did use words to describe ‘scared’ that were a little more vivid!

To be fair, Steph talked me through the likely scenarios that might play out on the call and showed me some basic navigation on the systems.

“All ready to go?”

“Don’t think so but let’s…….”

…..And the phone is ringing…..

…..And ringing, and ringing…..

My heart was in my mouth – I kid you not – and then…..

Answer machine. I didn’t know whether to be relieved or disappointed. It was quickly the latter. I felt gutted and cheated that I hadn’t got to speak to someone.

It didn’t matter though, 10 minutes later I had my first real experience of talking to a real customer.

This chap had nearly three years of low direct debit payments, based on estimated bills. He’d just been sent a new one, based on his own reading for a much higher amount – and he wasn’t happy. But, after a difficult few minutes, the call ended on a good note: when I suggested he call Steph with one more meter reading the next day, he joked, “I really must be a problem customer if it’s taken two of you to sort this out?”

After several more calls, by the late afternoon Steph’s manager thought I was doing well enough to move onto inbound calls. I can assure you I felt anything but ready, but I again gave it a go – in too deep, so better keep swimming. It was a similar pattern to outbound calls, but this time I was flying ‘blind’ as you don’t know what’s next.

All in all, it was a pretty amazing and exhausting day. I felt really proud of the team that talked me through this today and it was also very useful to hear customers first hand and try to help to resolve their issues. Being in the thick of it in the complaints team, I was speaking to some pretty frustrated customers. I often wished I wasn’t undercover, so I could have told them how much we’re doing to improve things. In particular, there’s a new £200 million IT system which is just about to go live and that will make a massive difference to how quickly and well we’re able to help.

I learnt a lot being undercover – about npower, about our customers, about the people who work for us but I also had it drilled into me that we need to keep listening and keep connected to our customers.

It’s important to me that I am more accessible and in touch with what we do. So I’m going from undercover to online – something else that’s new to me!

I’ve started up a new Twitter feed @npowerhq and a Tumblr blog http://npowerhq.tumblr.com with a very small support team of other experienced people to help me stay in touch. Visit us there and let me know what you reckon.

Watch our exclusive interview with Kevin McCullough

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