Lessons Learnt from the Customer Perspective

12 March 2013 | By Catherine Wheatcroft

Infrastructure works and developments of all kinds usually affect the end consumer somewhere along the line. We may be looking at general disruption caused from the works; mess, noise, muddy roads, increased traffic or we may be looking at more serious disruption that affects supply of services. Either way, these disruptions can cause ill feeling towards the providers and suppliers on the project and worse, bad press from complaints.

No service provider or contracting business really wants things to get to this level, but all too often in the UK, we find that they do. Planning and implementing these infrastructure projects are these company’s bread and butter, it is what their business is built up on, but are they learning lessons from past projects in order to improve future ones? Are they truly looking at what went wrong and ensuring that it does not happen on the next project?

I have no doubt that the senior managers and directors of these businesses pay great attention to customer satisfaction and they certainly spend many thousands on advertising the message across all forms of media. But do we, the consumers actually believe them or do we just get to put up with the mistakes, errors and delays? I wonder how these messages and customers satisfaction programmes filter down to the workers on the ground, the contractors on the job and those ‘making it happen’. Do they share the same ethos and business drivers as those higher up the managerial chain?

To take an all too familiar example, a rural area is undergoing work to replace an old water system. You would expect that amongst the things that residents could expect to experience during this work, will be:
• Messy roads – there may be small country lanes and they are digging holes every few metres.
• Road closures and diversions – the roads may be single track, so road closures are inevitable
• Water supply – at some point, when the infrastructure work is done, residents will be informed of some water ‘downtime’ whilst they connect to the new infrastructure.

I think that most customers would agree that this is to be expected and will bear with things for the duration they have been told the work will take. So why has this work turned into a customer disaster, with all residents totally fuming about the whole project, wishing it would end and having constant run in’s with contractors. Why is that the area is reported to be one of the worst projects for road closure signage being removed? Why are residents now so utterly fed up that they are seemingly taking matters into their own hands and any goodwill has totally gone?

A few suggestions could be:
• The project has overrun to ridiculous lengths and far exceeded the time residents were told it would take.
• The local area, verges, roads, grass banks are all now a thick muddy mess that spills onto the road, making the roads a permanent dirt track.
• The roads remain closed at night even though there is no work going on and a clear path through for traffic would be available.
• Local business trade is being affected longer than necessary.
• Due diligence is not always used – leaving pipes and stop valves un-covered in freezing temperatures, so residents water supply freezes over.
• Holes that have been dug and pipes replaced remain un-filled for weeks and weeks, rather than being completed and moving on to the next ones.

Whilst you could argue that some of this is ‘one of those things’ or ‘the nature of the beast’, I cannot believe that this is unique. The same concerns, frustrations and issues will have affected other similar projects. And I would be surprised to learn that this sort of negative feedback has not been filtered through to those senior managers that have customer satisfaction at the forefront of their targets and objectives.

There must be and are, simple corrective actions and lessons that would alleviate some of this. It is not rocket science; we are talking about the basics of common sense and communication. And both of these areas are simple to fix if the lessons have been highlighted, understood and filtered through to all concerned – not just the senior management team.

The businesses concerned with the water example are fully aware that it has overrun and there are issues with road closures not being adhered to and a lack of patience from the residents. If these businesses were to take the time to review such projects and actually do something constructive with the lessons learnt, it might just help a future project not to run into those same issues.

Surely this is in their interests at a commercial level? Overruns on projects cost money, extra resource being thrown at the job eats into profits, complaints and frustration cause bad press, repeating the same mistakes is not necessary.

Perhaps businesses do already conduct project reviews, may be this is just an unfortunate example…but how many times have you spoken to someone about infrastructure work taking place in their area and the eyes have rolled and there have been groans and moans before any conversation takes place.

If businesses strive for best practice, customer service levels higher than their competitors, a truly motivated and committed workforce, more profits retained from each project and reducing overruns as standard, they need to invest some time to learning lessons and implementing lessons. What better message could you give consumers that you are getting things right…this can only be achieved if learning and action takes place.