Ross Phelps

Service / UX / Design Leadership


  • 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 1.2 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. Saving the business nearly est. Β£20m/year.

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

πŸ’‘ 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 Β£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 1.2 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.

πŸš€ 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.

πŸ† Scope of Work

My team’s efforts focused on enhancing operational efficiency for the PAYG service leaning on business drivers such as cost reduction, 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 KPIs such as reduced customer complaints and improved satisfaction scores (NPS). British Gas PAYG customers often face financial constraints, leading to a preference for controlling energy expenses directly. This customer group’s higher propensity to contact customer services stems from 14 drivers identified from quantitative data sources which formed the foundation of our approach.

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.

πŸ‘ My Team

Upon my arrival, I was met with a dedicated team of eight 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 customer contact centres or other departments. Together, we embarked on an extensive up-skilling journey, rooted in the five core principles of service design thinking.


As the Service Design Lead at British Gas, I had the privilege of leading the implementation of a transformative framework during the design and discovery phases of the programme, specifically tailored for service design delivery. This framework stands as the inaugural track within a methodology we introduced, known as Tri-Track Agile. This innovative approach was instrumental in laying a foundation for service excellence, offering a transparent methodology that encompasses the entire discovery process. It significantly enhanced the speed and quality of collaboration throughout the wider 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 measured improvement in the overall customer experience (CX).


From the outset of the PAYG programme, my primary objective was not only to improve the service, but also foster collaboration with key stakeholders and material experts. The following steps detail the start of my team’s strategic approach, bought together in the canvas below.

🧠 Defining Scope and Boundaries

We began by establishing the programme’s scope and boundaries, focusing on actions defined in the service definition, discussing triggers, key moments in the customer journey, conclusions, and dependencies on other domains.

πŸ§‘πŸ‘© Identifying Beneficial Customer Groups

Participants identified which customer segments would benefit, including both gas and electricity customers with conventional and smart meters, and those facing debt challenges.

πŸ”¬ Evaluating Research Needs

The team identified existing research gaps, particularly the limited understanding of customer and customer service agent needs, highlighting the opportunity for in-depth ethnographic studies and interviews.

πŸ”­ Identifying Key Stakeholders and Material Experts

We identified stakeholders and material experts essential to the programme, tagging individuals with orange markers to indicate those needing updates and green for those closely involved.

πŸ“‹ Assigning Responsibilities

Tasks were clearly assigned to groups and individuals, ensuring clarity and accountability within the team.

πŸ“ˆ Assessing Feasibility of Timelines and Workloads

We assessed the feasibility of our timelines and workloads, making necessary adjustments to align with initiative goals and resources.

πŸ“… Scheduling and Communication

Placeholder invitations for key milestones and meetings were issued, and their status changed to β€˜confirmed’ once sent.

Scope & Approach

The goal was to map both the happy and unhappy paths for Pay As You Go (PAYG) customers, identifying and addressing potential oversights to mitigate risks and reduce operational costs. This session would communicate our approach back to decision makers through the power of a sharable canvas to build trust.

πŸ”Ž Known Knowns

My team catalogued known insights from the 14 primary reasons customers contacted British Gas support about PAYG services, ranging from payment device queries to compensation requests.

πŸ“¦ Deliverables

A distinctive feature of my approach was the interactive nature of our documentation; every artefact produced was designed to be readable, useable, and shareable, offering traceability back to any original insights. This level of detail extended to individual session recordings, allowing for thorough review and analysis. Relevant tasks outside the immediate scope of contact drivers were identified. Our collaborative efforts resulted in deliverables like journey maps, blueprints, and improvement opportunities across customer, agent, and engineer experiences. Insights were shared with the Customer Insights and Analytics team, supported by stakeholder and customer interviews and a thorough synthesis of findings.

Finally, we played back our project timeline and key milestones in a Gantt chart which covered a period of three months, ensuring a structured and efficient approach to enhancing PAYG customer service pathways with a commitment to excellence and operational efficiency.


πŸ”— Connecting Research Streams

For the first time, we integrated the five research capabilities at British Gas: root cause analysis, UX research, data analytics, trend analysis, and finance. Key stakeholders from these domains collaborated, sharing useful insights and documents, user journey maps from the legacy platforms, Figma designs, and business intelligence reports on the broader category of metering.

πŸ§ͺ Formulating a Research Strategy

My team used the opportunity to gather feedback on our approach from the researchers. They replayed the business drivers fuelling our initiative, and revealed the challenges of a small research sample of 150 individuals, prompting the need for broader research objectives like cost implications, customer wait times, call handling durations, repeat contact instances, broader pain points, and internal system processes. This collaborative effort world mark a significant advancement in British Gas’ research and analysis capabilities, and would be complemented by customer surveys, ethnographic research, co-design workshops, and stakeholder interviews. Our quantitative research included capturing Net Promoter Score (NPS), primary and secondary contact drivers, and using Adobe Analytics for online experiences.

Stakeholder Interviews

Using Co-Design as a catalyst for success. My team and I engaged with key business stakeholders at British Gas, focusing on product owners from various functions such as support, “in-life” management, and app development.

πŸ›‘ Identifying Blockers and Dependencies

Our primary goal was to identify dependencies within the “Pay As You Go” (PAYG) journeys and mitigate delivery risks. We began by understanding each stakeholder’s role and responsibilities, aiming to preemptively address challenges encountered in past projects. This strategy was devised to optimise our collaborative co-design efforts.

⛰️ Understanding the Current State

We delved into customer experiences, especially those that led to contact on the unhappy path, examining the emotional impacts on both customers and employees. Discussions covered service issue impacts, resolution strategies, and lessons learned, shaping our service design and delivery approach.

πŸ•΅οΈβ€β™€οΈπŸ‘· Agents and Engineers

We also explored the challenges faced by agents and field engineers, ensuring backstage elements like systems, processes, and personnel were aligned with our business objectives. This detailed approach ensured stakeholder requirements were meticulously examined, focusing on internal operations and process optimisation.

πŸ“Š Data and Metrics

Our discussions highlighted the strategic use of data and metrics for continuous improvement. This holistic approach, underpinned by stakeholder engagement and a customer-centric perspective, aimed to refine PAYG service offerings and enhance operational efficiency. Ultimately, this contributed to a more coherent and risk-averse delivery framework.

SME Interviews

🎯 Objective and Methodology

Our goal was to map individual journeys related to contact drivers identified earlier. We held detailed sessions with SMEs to create preliminary journey maps, leveraging their extensive customer interaction experience. This involved spending significant time in Edinburgh, working closely with SMEs to understand customer challenges, tasks, and objectives.

πŸ”™ Beyond the Frontline

We also examined internal processes, technologies, and teams that support service delivery. Understanding these backstage elements was crucial for assessing efficiency and compliance with British Gas’s governance and regulatory standards.

πŸ’ͺ Synthesis and Application

The raw insights from these interviews were meticulously synthesised into our final service design artefacts. This holistic approach, which included analysing the journeys of customers, agents, and engineers, enabled us to identify opportunities for service improvement and design solutions that align with business objectives and address the needs of those we serve.

Customer Interviews

I’m pleased to share an overview of our recent customer interview initiative. We aimed to engage a diverse demographic, covering various meter types, to gather comprehensive insights. To support this, we developed and led a bespoke training course for our service design team, enabling them to conduct interviews. This marked a milestone for many team members and led to a 270% increase in direct customer engagement across our organisation.

πŸ‘‚ Understanding Customer Experiences

Our primary objective was to understand customers’ experiences, challenges, and preferred solutions, focusing on enhancing our self-service offerings. We initiated discussions with questions about energy usage, setting the stage for deeper exploration into each customer’s journey. This included how they chose our services, their interactions with different meter types, and their account top-up habits.

🧭 Exploring Challenges and Preferences

We paid particular attention to preferred methods for managing energy needs and the factors influencing these choices. We explored challenges related to metering or service issues, listening intently to customers’ experiences, their efforts to seek assistance, and the outcomes. We also discussed instances where customers resolved issues independently, gaining insights into the self-service approach, the information sought, and the emotional journey involved.

πŸ’¬ Gathering Feedback and Synthesising Data

Concluding our interviews, we engaged in constructive dialogue about potential improvements, gathering invaluable feedback. We synthesised the data into key themes: customer thoughts, emotions, needs, and pain points. This rich insight was then integrated into customer journey maps, serving as foundational artefacts for our initiative.

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

Ethnographic Studies of Field Engineers

I encouraged my team to conduct an extensive exploration into the daily operations of our field engineers through ethnographic studies. Collaborating with multiple experts, our objective was to authentically understand how they manage the Pay-As-You-Go service and meet customer needs daily.

To ensure thorough investigation, we implemented ethnographic best practices. We engaged in participant observation, directly shadowing field engineers during their tasks to gain first-hand insights. We conducted in-depth interviews to delve into their experiences and challenges. Meticulous field notes were kept to identify patterns, and we used triangulation to validate our findings by cross-referencing multiple data sources and perspectives.

πŸ‘€ Identifying Solutions and Insights

Our investigation identified common solutions to customer issues and highlighted invaluable insights from field experts, poised to enhance the service.

πŸ–‡οΈ Exploring Service Dependencies

We examined dependencies across British Gas services, from incorrect job bookings by agents to planning and dispatch complexities. A critical issue was the availability of necessary equipment, directly affecting user satisfaction. This led to brainstorming potential solutions to align our service with the emerging Energy platform.

🌈 Opportunities and Discoveries

This comprehensive dialogue unearthed numerous insights and opportunities, promising to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of the Pay-As-You-Go service for all stakeholders.


To ensure thorough examination and inclusivity, we convened subject matter experts from across the organisation, engaging in over fifteen intensive validation sessions. These sessions went beyond quantitative data analysis, delving into the less satisfactory aspects of each contact point. This comprehensive approach was enabled by contributions from subject matter experts, product owners, engineers, and customers.

πŸ” Emphasis on Clarity

We standardised internal terminology to ensure clear and consistent communication, making complex information accessible to all.

πŸ“Š Visual Coherence

We synchronised data presentation across documents, transforming complex datasets into easily digestible visuals.

πŸ“– Narrative Journeys

We mapped stakeholder journeys, using narrative techniques and black Post-it notes for immediate feedback, to elicit comprehensive insights.

πŸŽ™οΈ Capturing Insights

Sessions were recorded and transcribed to capture and utilise valuable insights, turning them into actionable evidence.

🌍 Diverse Perspectives

We expanded our expert panel to include new specialists, introducing diverse perspectives that enriched our design process.

Collaborative Culture

These strategies refined our service design and fostered a culture of continuous improvement and collaboration. By integrating diverse expertise, we laid a solid foundation for innovative solutions aligned with user needs and experiences.

Final Artefacts

After months of meticulous research, we have seamlessly compiled our findings into actionable artefacts designed to spark innovation for the new Energy platform’s Pay As You Go service. These artefacts include executive summaries detailing each journey contributing to existing contact drivers. They capture pivotal data such as annual demand on the SAP platform and a breakdown of contact by channel.

πŸ’° Projected Cost Savings

A particularly intriguing aspect is the projected cost savings, with an impressive potential of over Β£11 million, projected by reducing customer contact by 70%. Each artefact serves as a trove of insights, encapsulating meeting recordings, notes, and transcripts, and artefacts from our Track One framework.

πŸ” Deep Dive into Insights

You can explore the sources of these insights through Miro links found at the top of each finding or post-it note. Each artefact includes contact driver-specific resources, detailed contributions, and links to internal resolutions used by agents. Our narrative approach employs compelling storytelling techniques enriched with internal brand photography. We have intricately mapped the customer’s journey, capturing every touchpoint, emotion, and crucial juncture influencing the Pay As You Go experience, using our outside-in approach to research. Additionally, we’ve charted the paths of agents and field engineers, identifying their jobs to be done, challenges, and impacts on the wider service.

πŸ› οΈ Backstage Improvements

Behind the line of visibility, we propose key performance indicators and metrics to ensure continuous improvement. This includes highlighting key processes, underlying technology or systems, and the supporting teams, along with necessary governance or regulation. Green post-it notes at the bottom of each artefact highlight significant opportunities addressing root causes of pain points, with projected outcomes measured through cost-mapping benefits.

πŸš€ Overcoming Challenges

Creating these artefacts involved overcoming hurdles, including adapting to British Gas’s internal business shift in contact reporting mid-initiative. Through diligent quantitative data analysis, we navigated these complexities.

I hope you enjoyed this case study. For further inquiries or complex challenges needing solutions, please contact Harry or myself. We look forward to hearing from you soon.