by Sarah Putt

How NZ’s Contact Energy IT services reinvented their reputation

Apr 21, 2021
Change ManagementIT LeadershipTech Support

A proactive effort to change not just its branding but its whole communication philosophy delivered on its awhi goal for IT service.

thumbs up / teamwork / collaboration / success
Credit: PeopleImages / Getty Images

You can swap out a tool, but if you don’t make the cultural change then the deployment can struggle to be a success. That was the experience of the IT service operations team at Contact Energy, one of New Zealand’s largest listed companies, with more than 550,000 connections across electricity, natural gas, liquefied petroleum gas, and broadband products.

When head of IT service operations Kylee Bently joined Contact Energy in late 2019, the team was mired in a transition to replace its ServiceNow platform with the Cherwell (aquired by Ivanti) tool set. Her first call was to pause the project, have some “honest conversations” with the vendor, and ultimately choose a different implementation partner. The new company, Streamline, proved a much better fit, and although based in Australia, the geographical distance became a nonissue once COVID-19 struck.

Beyond branding: Communications exercise strengthens the IT service operation

Bently says that even more fundamental than getting the right partner was to look at how the 37-strong IT services team was communicating internally, and how to go about improving how they interacted with the business.

“Engagement excellence is all about, for want of a better word, our brand out to the business. How are we seen? How do we engage? How do we make sure that the tools that we give them and the information that we provide them with is actually fit for purpose and that they see us as a source of information and support?” she says.

Out of these discussions, Awhi Tech was born. Awhi means in Māori to embrace, surround, support, and cherish, and Bentley says the words in definition are exactly how the Contact Energy staff described what they wanted from the IT services and operations team.

The new user-portal built using the Cherwell platform was branded My Awhi, although Bently says the team don’t like to think of it as just a marketing exercise. “Awhi Tech is something we are very passionate about. Something we want our people to really believe in. We don’t want it just to be something that is thought of as a branding thing. We actually want people to feel that engagement and have that connection,” she says.

Delivery manager Fiona Kilner leads the project, and she says they began by asking the service desk team — since renamed the Awhi team — what would make them proud to represent Awhi Tech. “They were definitely open to improving and coming along on that journey. They feel quite proud of it today,” she says.

Kilner has also commandeered a team of 20 Awhi advocates across the business to function as a kind of focus group, providing feedback on proposed changes to the portal and being involved in user testing before new IT services are rolled out to the business.

Good communication is essential to IT engagement

While active stakeholder management has been important, so has focussing on communication to the business, starting with the standard emails that IT sends on a regular basis to inform employees about changes (planned or otherwise) that may affect their work.

Kilner says they put together a language guide to help the IT team, so they could leave out the acronyms and adopt a more conversational approach. “Contact Energy itself has moved internally a bit more to informal speak. It’s not like “please see attached on your email”-type of wording; it’s more conversational from an internal perspective, and that’s the kind of thing we wanted to do as well,” she says.

They then tackled the standard email templates (notifications of incidents and so on), redesigning the look and language, enlisting the help of the communications team to work with the service managers.

“We recently had a new delivery lead come into our team, and one of the things he said to me on his first day was ‘I want to steal those templates and take them to my old work and tell them they need to use them because those are fantastic’.”

IT service desk change is reflected in positive NPS

The Awhi Tech approach isn’t only getting a thumbs-up from the IT team. People throughout the business are responding well to the changes. The proof is the change in Net Promoter Score, which asks a customer to score between 1 and 10, with 0-6 scores considered detractors, 7-8 passives, and 9-10 promoters. The score is the sum of the percentage of promoters minus the percentage of detractors.

“One of the questions that is consistently asked, because we want to have a benchmark, is ‘Would you recommend contact the ICT services desk?’. We’ve renamed it to ‘Would you recommend contacting Awhi Tech,” because that’s we want to be known as,” Bently says.

“When I first started our NPS was –20, so not the greatest. But I love challenges, and it means that you can only go up. When we did our one in November 2020, just before Christmas, our NPS was +32,” Bently says. Part of the reason for the score was that IT successfully enabled people to work from home during COVID-19.

Now, Bently says they have to capitalise on the good will the team has generated. “This is just the first step. What we’ve done with Awhi Tech and with the new launch of the portal with Cherwell, that is going to keep going. Basically, we’ve gone out with an MVP [minimum viable product]; the focus has been on making it people-friendly from a portal perspective. We are now going to start bolting on the frameworks and processes that we need. To grow those processes around changes management, all that good stuff.… We’ve got the vehicle; now we can jump in and start to drive it in the right direction.”