Ross Phelps

Service / UX / Design Leadership

Portfolio

  • Dec 22 - Nov 23
  • Hybrid, London
  • Client-Side Contract

British Gas, Unlocking Service Design Excellence.

This case study explores the Service Design of the British Gas Pay As You Go service (PAYG), detailing a strategic shift towards contact reduction, enhancing operational efficiencies, and elevating the PAYG customer experience; using an internal migration programme as the foundation for modernising the service to better meet the needs of 2.7 million PAYG customers. In this case study I will share my discovery framework for how I mitigated risk, reduced contact and cost to serve, and increased satisfaction metrics for the UK’s most vulnerable households. Let’s get into it!

A Brief History of British Gas

British Gas is the UK’s largest energy supplier. Founded in 1812 as the Gas Light and Coke Company, British Gas played a pivotal role in transitioning London from oil lamps to gas lighting, reflecting the UK’s industrial advancements. Over the years, through mergers, legislative changes, and diversification, British Gas has grown from a local gas provider to the leading energy supplier in the UK.

Gas Light and Coke Company

Service Evolution to Present Day

The adaptability of British Gas in its service design has been a cornerstone of its history. With the introduction of North Sea gas in the 1970s, significant infrastructure changes were necessary. The company’s transition from a state-run monopoly to privatisation in the 1980s and 1990s highlighted the importance of focusing on customer needs, blending technological progress, regulations, and user expectations.

Today, British Gas stands as a cornerstone of the UK’s “Big Six“, transcending mere energy supply to deliver a comprehensive customer experience. This includes billing, support, and a focus on smart technology and green solutions, illustrating the profound impact of service design on both business and societal levels. Serving a quarter of homes in Great Britain, with 9 million customers, achieving an operating profit of £969 million in the six months to 30 June 2023. ​​

British Gas Market Share

Pay As You Go (PAYG) Service

The PAYG service is a modern iteration of the prepayment system, offering customers the ability to purchase energy credits in advance. This service, supporting 2.7 million customers, embodies the spirit of innovation, providing an essential option for those seeking better financial control or facing challenges with regular bill payments. The evolution from coin-operated meters to digital solutions exemplifies British Gas’s commitment to flexibility and customer empowerment.

British Gas PAYG Service Touchpoints

Impact

PAYG is a testament to the role of service design in addressing social challenges, such as energy poverty. It offers a tangible solution for customers, promoting conscious energy use and aligning with broader social, economic, and environmental goals.

Scope of Work

My team’s efforts focused on enhancing operational efficiency within the PAYG service and migrating customers to a new, innovative platform called NEP. Throughout the course of the programme success metrics were established to measure the impact of our changes to the service, including reduced customer complaints and improved satisfaction scores. British Gas PAYG customers often face financial constraints, leading to a preference for controlling energy expenses directly. This group’s higher propensity to contact customer services stems from 14 drivers identified from quant data sources. Consequently, PAYG customers represent the group with the highest cost to serve, due to their frequent and diverse service requirements.

Organisation Wide Collaboration

The PAYG initiative was a collaborative effort across the organisation which involved 58 individuals from various departments, fostering a unified focus on customer-centricity and the adoption of User-Centered Design (UCD) processes. My Discovery Framework, centred around a new Tri-Track Agile methodology developed by a brilliant team of consultants facilitated a comprehensive design and discovery process, ultimately over time, enhancing the service design and agile maturity across British Gas. This case study highlights the importance of a meticulous approach to service design and the transformative power of collaboration and empathy in shaping the future of energy services in the UK.

Individuals involved in organisation wide collaboration as part of the PAYG initiative

Framework

As the Service Design Lead at British Gas, I had the privilege of spearheading the implementation of a transformative framework during the Design and Discovery phase, specifically tailored for service design. This framework stands as the inaugural track within a methodology we introduced, known as Tri-Track Agile. This innovative approach has been instrumental in laying a foundation for excellence, offering a transparent methodology that encompasses the entire design process. It has significantly enhanced the speed and quality of collaboration throughout our organisation, enabling all stakeholders to collectively realise value. One of the most profound impacts of this framework has been its ability to elevate the design and Agile maturity levels across British Gas, contributing to a marked improvement in customer experience (CX).
Upon my arrival, I was met with a dedicated team of seven service designers. These individuals hailed from various sectors of the organisation, each bringing a deep-rooted understanding of customer needs to the table, whether their background was in call centres or other departments. Together, we embarked on an extensive upskilling journey, rooted in the five core principles of service design thinking. A distinctive feature of our approach is the interactive nature of our documentation; every artefact produced is designed to be clickable, offering traceability back to the original insights. This level of detail extends to individual session recordings, allowing for thorough review and analysis.

Our application of the Tri-Track Agile framework is holistic and co-creative, driving forward collaboration as a key benefit. The framework guides us through several distinct stages, starting with a prelaunch session that assembles a diverse team to outline future state boundaries and identify key participants for the journey ahead. This stage also involves scrutinising existing insights and planning for supplementary research, defining roles and responsibilities, and assessing team capacity.

Following the prelaunch, we conduct a scope and approach playback session, aligning research and leadership on the project’s scope, approach, outcomes, and timelines. Recognising the challenge of scheduling in large organisations, we strategically plan our activities in reverse, beginning with the handover session, to keep the team focused and motivated.

The research and analysis phase is characterised by a blend of primary and secondary research methods, from ethnographic studies to trends analysis, aimed at capturing a comprehensive understanding of the service landscape. This phase culminates in journey identification and ideation workshops, where we delineate the current ‘as-is’ journey, unearth customer needs and pain points, and brainstorm future service concepts.
Mapping these journeys involves synthesising business requirements, customer insights, and best practices in service design to envision the desired future state. Product management and project teams are then engaged to refine the project’s scope into manageable features, ready for the subsequent validation phase. Here, we gather feedback through workshops, making revisions based on this input to refine our approach.
The final phase involves transitioning the refined scope into actionable plans, incorporating feedback into the development of product designs and project deliverables. This stage is marked by thorough documentation and the sharing of insights, ensuring a seamless handover to product designers for implementation.

In summary, the framework we have established at British Gas not only optimises our service design and discovery process but also fosters a culture of collaboration and continuous improvement. It is through this rigorous, customer-centred approach that we have achieved significant advancements in service design and Agile practices, enhancing the overall customer experience. This journey of transformation and learning exemplifies our commitment to excellence and innovation in serving our customers.

Pre-Launch Canvas

At the outset of our current project, our primary objective is to foster collaboration from the very beginning. The following steps delineate our strategic approach:

Defining Scope and Boundaries: Initially, we embark on establishing the epic’s scope and boundaries. This involves focusing on the actions delineated in the epic definition, discussing triggers, key moments in the customer journey, conclusions, and dependencies on other domains.

Identifying Beneficial Customer Groups: Subsequently, we identify which customer segments will derive benefits from the outcomes of this epic. To illustrate, we have pinpointed both gas and electricity customers utilising conventional and smart meters, as well as customers in debt and those not in debt, among others.

Evaluating Research Needs: We proceed to evaluate our existing research to pinpoint areas requiring further exploration or upcoming research initiatives. A notable discovery was the limited understanding of both customer and agent needs, underscoring the opportunity to engage in in-depth ethnographic studies and customer interviews.

Identifying Key Stakeholders and Experts: The fourth step involves identifying stakeholders and subject matter experts crucial to the epic’s success. We have designated individuals with orange or green markers – orange to indicate those who need to be kept informed about the initiative, and green to identify those who should be closely involved and invested.

Assigning Responsibilities: Responsibilities for each task are clearly assigned to ensure both clarity and accountability within the team.

Assessing Feasibility of Timelines and Workloads: We then assess the feasibility of our proposed timelines and workloads, making necessary adjustments to align with project goals and resource availability.

Scheduling and Communication: Lastly, we issue placeholder invitations for project milestones and meetings, changing their status to ‘confirmed’ once sent.

These seven foundational steps underscore our service design approach, ensuring meticulous planning and effective execution of activities. This structured methodology not only facilitates collaboration but also enhances our project’s efficiency and success.

Scope & Approach

This project leverages the transformative potential of service design to execute the Track One framework. Our guiding epic statement is to delineate both the gratifying and challenging pathways for our Pay As You Go (PAYG) customers. This involves a comprehensive mapping of PAYG journeys, with a keen eye on identifying and addressing any potential oversights, thereby mitigating risks associated with the delivery of our services. The underpinning motivation for this endeavour includes the migration of contact drivers and the overarching objective of reducing operational costs.

In the subsequent phase, my team has delineated the scope at a macro level, concentrating on the problematic aspects of PAYG services, including conventional and smart metering systems, as well as temporary disruptions within the service continuum. Additionally, we have clarified elements outside our current focus and outlined our methodology, which amalgamates the Tri-Track Framework with Discovery Debt. This foundational strategy encompasses an array of stakeholders, from users of conventional metering to adopters of smart technologies.

The preparatory work also involves cataloguing insights from identified contact drivers, encapsulating the 15 predominant reasons customers reach out to British Gas support concerning PAYG services. These range from queries about payment devices to requests for compensation or refunds.

Moving forward, our strategy includes the creation of a rudimentary journey map that delineates customer and agent paths, as well as identifying Discovery Debt. These paths are categorised under specific contact drivers, ensuring a holistic approach to addressing customer interactions. This phase also entails adherence to existing regulations, such as Ofgem requirements, and aligning with business necessities which support Discovery Debt, including policy management and eligibility verification.

Furthermore, we’ve identified Discovery Debt, or tasks within our project management tool (ADO), that lie outside the immediate scope of contact drivers but are nonetheless pertinent. Our collaborative efforts will culminate in agreeing on deliverables, such as journey maps, blueprints, and opportunities for improvement across customer, agent, and engineer experiences. The insights garnered will be systematically relayed to the Customer Insights and Analytics team. Our deliverables will be substantiated through stakeholder and customer interviews, alongside a thorough synthesis of findings.

Finally, we will articulate our project timeline and key milestones within a Gantt chart, spanning over a three-month period. This detailed planning ensures a structured and efficient approach to enhancing our PAYG customer service pathways, with a steadfast commitment to service excellence and operational efficiency.

Research and Analysis

This marks the inaugural occasion where we’ve integrated five distinct research streams within our organisation. These streams encompass a comprehensive range of fields including root cause analysis, UX (User Experience) research, data analytics and insight, trend analysis, and financial studies.

Key stakeholders from these domains have collaborated to compile and share their insights. This collaboration materialised through an array of documents, encompassing everything from Miro boards supplied by external agencies, detailed user journey mappings on the SAP platform, to Figma designs related to the platform. Additionally, we have business intelligence reports focusing on metering—a critical dependency of our programme—as well as discussion guides executed by a third-party agency. These documents constitute the foundational base from which we build further.

In an effort to synthesise these varied inputs, we formulated an ‘Epic Statement’, crafting a unified problem statement. This facilitated a coherent strategy to replay the business drivers, define the project scope, ascertain our methodologies, and delineate how we intended to address the needs of all actors involved, both in the front stage and backstage of the service. Leveraging insights on contact drivers, we pinpointed challenges, notably the sample size of existing research, which stood at approximately 150 individuals. Recognising the need for a broader dataset to more accurately reflect our customer base, we outlined a series of research objectives. These included understanding the cost implications to the business, customer wait times, average call handling durations, instances of repeat contact for unresolved issues, broader customer pain points, and the internal systems and processes operating backstage.

Transitioning to our next phase, we identified specific methods to support the ‘Pay As You Go’ initiative. Our approach commenced with British Gas customer interviews, initially with a foundational group of 10, scaling as necessary. This was complemented by customer surveys and ethnographic research, including observations of engineers and agents in their work contexts, as well as co-design workshops and stakeholder interviews across diverse cross-functional disciplines. Our quantitative research aimed to capture core metrics such as the Net Promoter Score (NPS), despite its limitations, alongside primary and secondary contact drivers, and further analysis through Adobe Analytics for online experiences.

The final step involved coordinating with the research teams across the four segments—finance, root cause analysis, customer insights analytics, UX research, and our service design team—to ascertain their capacity for undertaking the planned studies. This collaborative effort was agreed upon and set into motion, marking a significant stride in our research and analysis capabilities.

Stakeholder Interviews

As the Service Design Lead, I orchestrated discussions with 11 stakeholders, predominantly comprising product owners whose responsibilities span the breadth of our business. Their roles extend from support functions to “in-life” management and app development, among other areas. Additionally, we engaged with members of the business readiness team, an effort detailed in our pre-launch canvas, which underscores our commitment to privacy and clarity.

Our primary objective was to delineate the “Pay As You Go” journeys and mitigate delivery risks comprehensively. Through our stakeholder dialogues, we sought to garner insights, identify solutions, and encourage collaborative synergy. Our approach commenced with enquiries into each stakeholder’s role, responsibilities, and their interrelations, aiming to preemptively address and circumvent any recurrent challenges encountered in past projects. This strategy was devised to optimise our collaborative efforts effectively.

Furthermore, we delved into understanding customer experiences, particularly those less than ideal. Our inquiries extended to the emotional repercussions of service issues, the impacts thereof, strategies for resolution, and the lessons gleaned from these encounters. This exploration was pivotal in shaping our approach to service design and delivery.

Our investigation also encompassed the challenges confronted by agents and field engineers, integral to the customer journey. We did not overlook the infrastructural elements, probing into the systems, processes, and personnel underpinning our service delivery. This comprehensive scrutiny ensured that stakeholder requirements were meticulously examined and aligned with our overarching business objectives, with a particular focus on internal operations and process optimisation.

Lastly, our discussions touched upon the strategic utilisation of data and metrics, envisaged as tools to drive continuous improvement. This holistic approach, underpinned by stakeholder engagement and a customer-centric perspective, aims to refine our service offerings and enhance operational efficiency, ultimately contributing to a more coherent and risk-averse delivery framework.

SME Interviews

Objective and Methodology
Our primary objective was to map and identify individual journeys that align with the contact drivers we had previously delineated. Through detailed sessions with the SMEs, we sought to construct preliminary journey maps based on their extensive experience with customer interactions. The effort was substantial, involving numerous hours spent in Edinburgh, collaboratively working with the SMEs to chart these journeys.

The mapping process was multifaceted, focusing initially on the customer path. This entailed understanding not only the customer’s challenges and pain points but also their tasks and objectives (‘jobs to be done’). This investigation extended to the support agents, identifying their roles, challenges, and the critical ‘moments’ within their journey that significantly impact service delivery.

Further exploration was conducted into the engineers’ journey, pinpointing their specific tasks and the difficulties they encounter. This comprehensive approach helped us identify overlaps with ongoing initiatives across the business, providing a valuable lens through which to view our service ecosystem.

Beyond the Frontline
An important aspect of our investigation involved delving into the ‘backstage’ elements of service delivery. This encompasses the internal processes, technologies, and the teams that underpin our customer interactions. Understanding these elements is crucial, as they directly influence the efficiency and effectiveness of our service provision. Additionally, we examined the governance and regulatory requirements specific to British Gas, ensuring that our service design adheres to these standards.

Synthesis and Application
The insights garnered from these interviews, while raw, have been meticulously synthesised to serve as evidence in our final service design artefacts. This process of gathering and refining data is central to our design methodology, ensuring that our decisions are informed by a deep understanding of both the customer and agent experiences.

By systematically analysing the journeys of our customers, agents, and engineers, we are better positioned to identify opportunities for service improvement. This holistic approach allows us to design solutions that are not only aligned with our business objectives but also responsive to the needs and challenges of those we serve.

Customer Interviews

I am pleased to share an overview of our recent customer interview initiative. Our aim was to engage with a diverse demographic, encompassing a variety of meter types, to gather a comprehensive range of insights. To facilitate this, my colleagues and I developed and led a bespoke training course for our service design team, enabling each member to conduct interviews. This marked a significant milestone for many on our team, empowering them to directly engage with customers, a practice that has subsequently seen a 270% increase across our organisation.

Our primary objective was to delve into the experiences of our customers, understand their challenges, preferred solutions, and identify opportunities to enhance our self-service offerings. We initiated our conversations with introductory questions focused on energy usage, setting the foundation for a deeper exploration into each customer’s journey. This included how they came to choose our services, their interactions with various meter types, and their habits concerning account top-up.

We paid particular attention to the methods customers prefer for managing their energy needs and the factors influencing these choices. Furthermore, we explored challenges related to metering or service issues, listening intently to the customers’ experiences, including their efforts to seek assistance, the emotions they encountered, and the outcomes of these interactions.

Our discussions also covered instances where customers independently resolved their issues, providing valuable insights into the self-service approach, the information sought, and the emotional journey involved. Concluding our interviews, we engaged in constructive dialogue about potential improvements, gathering invaluable feedback.

Following these interviews, we synthesised the data into key themes: customer thoughts, emotions, needs, and pain points. This rich insight was then integrated into the customer journey maps, serving as foundational artefacts for this initiative.

This process not only enriched our understanding of the customer experience but also fostered a culture of direct engagement within our team, driving forward our commitment to service excellence.

Engineer Expert Interviews

My role entailed orchestrating an extensive exploration into the daily operations of our field engineers through ethnographic studies. Collaborating closely with five distinguished experts in the domain, our objective was to gain an authentic understanding of how they manage the Pay-As-You-Go service on a daily basis. This immersive approach enabled us to directly appreciate the challenges encountered during interactions with customers, as well as to recognise the broader implications of these interactions on the overall service quality.

Our investigation delved deeply into identifying common solutions to the real-world issues our customers face. Most importantly, it shed light on the invaluable insights and lessons shared by these field experts, which are poised to significantly advance our Pay-As-You-Go service offering.

However, our dialogue extended beyond these initial discussions. We explored the various dependencies across the entire spectrum of British Gas services, examining everything from the pitfalls associated with incorrect job bookings by agents, to the complexities of planning and dispatch operations. A particularly critical issue that emerged was the availability of necessary equipment, which we found to be a direct contributor to the dissatisfaction experienced by some users. This insight led us to brainstorm potential solutions, aiming to refine and enhance our service in alignment with the emerging Energy platform.

In essence, this comprehensive dialogue has not only opened the door to numerous opportunities but has also unearthed a wealth of insights. These discoveries promise to illuminate the path towards a more efficient and effective Pay-As-You-Go service for all stakeholders involved.

Validation

In an effort to ensure thorough examination and inclusivity, we convened subject matter experts from across the organisation, engaging in over fifteen intensive validation sessions. These sessions were not confined to quantitative data analysis but extended into a profound exploration of the less satisfactory aspects associated with each point of contact. This holistic approach was made possible by the invaluable contributions of our subject matter experts, product owners, engineers, and most importantly, our customers.

Reaching a significant milestone in our framework, each session was meticulously planned to foster not just an informative atmosphere but an engaging and interactive environment where collaboration flourished. Let me guide you through the strategic pillars that underscore our achievements:

Emphasis on Clarity: Recognising the transformative power of clear communication, we embarked on standardising our internal terminology. This initiative ensured consistency across the board, making complex information accessible and understandable to everyone, regardless of their role within the organisation.

Visual Coherence: Acknowledging the critical role of visuals in comprehension, we dedicated ourselves to synchronising the presentation of data within each document. This effort transformed complex datasets into coherent, easily digestible visuals, facilitating a deeper understanding of the material.

Narrative Journeys: We charted the journey of our stakeholders — from customers and front-line agents to engineers and those behind the scenes — guiding participants through each pivotal experience. This narrative approach was instrumental in eliciting feedback and identifying potential oversights, encapsulated by the innovative use of black Post-it notes for immediate, visible feedback across all documents.

Capturing Insights: To ensure no valuable insight was missed, every session was recorded and transcribed. This process allowed us to swiftly isolate and utilise these ‘golden nuggets’ of information, turning them into actionable evidence to advance our objectives.

Diverse Perspectives: In pursuit of a holistic design ethos, we expanded our panel of experts beyond those involved in the initial workshops. By engaging a new set of specialists, we were able to introduce a broader range of perspectives, enriching our design process with a more diverse and comprehensive collection of insights.

Through these strategies, our validation process not only aimed to refine and enhance our service design but also to foster a culture of continuous improvement and collaboration. By integrating the expertise and perspectives of a wide range of stakeholders, we have laid a solid foundation for creating solutions that are not only innovative but also deeply aligned with the needs and experiences of our users.

Final Artefacts

After months of meticulous research, we have seamlessly compiled our vast findings into actionable artefacts designed to spark innovation for the new Energy platform’s Pay As You Go service. Within these artefacts, you will discover executive summaries detailing each journey that contributes to the existing contact drivers. These summaries capture pivotal data such as annual demand on the SAP platform and a breakdown of contact by channel. A particularly intriguing aspect is the projected cost savings, with an impressive potential of over £11 million, projected by reducing customer contact by 70%. By leveraging the opportunities that we have pinpointed, each artefact serves as a trove of insights, encapsulating meeting recordings, notes, and transcripts among other vital components, and artefacts from our Track One framework.

You can dive deeper into where these insights were sourced from with a simple click on the Miro links found at the top of each finding or post-it note, to enhance clarity. Each artefact is equipped with contact driver-specific resources, detailed contributions, and links to internal resolutions employed by agents. Our narrative approach employs compelling storytelling techniques, enriched by an array of internal brand photography. Through this, we have intricately mapped the customer’s journey, capturing every touchpoint, emotion, and crucial junctures that influence the Pay As You Go experience, taken from our outside-in approach to research. Additionally, we’ve charted the path of agents and field engineers, identifying their jobs to be done, challenges, and impacts on the wider service.

We didn’t stop there; behind the line of visibility, we provide proposed key performance indicators and metrics, which can be used across each key moment to ensure that British Gas drives continuous improvements to the service. This includes highlighting key processes, the technology or systems that underpin them, and the teams or people that support them, along with any governance or regulation that the service must adhere to. Our green post-it notes, found at the very bottom segment of each artefact, spotlight the true gold opportunities. These opportunities address the root causes of pain points, and it’s here that we’ve measured our projected outcomes via cost-mapping benefits.

Creating these artefacts was not without its hurdles; a major one was adapting to British Gas’s internal business shift in contact reporting mid-initiative. Yet, with diligent quantitative data analysis, we navigated this complexity.

Please feel free to delve into the 14 rich artefacts, each telling a unique tale. We hope that you have enjoyed this case study. Please do not hesitate to contact Harry or myself if you have a complex challenge needing a solution, insight into how to deliver the right thing for your customers, or knowledge on how to employ the Cutting Edge Try Track agile methodology. We look forward to hearing from you soon.