How Utility Warehouse has embraced remote work for the long term
The UK’s only genuine multiservice provider transitioned seamlessly into remote work to protect staff, Partners, and customers throughout the pandemic – and beyond.
Last year, COVID-19 meant businesses across the UK had to uproot their staff and work from home. A year later, we’re still in the same situation. Nobody saw the immediate shift to remote work coming, yet this is perhaps the biggest transformation office-based companies have ever seen. Though remote work has been on the rise since the mid-2010s, many employers were reluctant to adopt widespread home-working cultures until the pandemic gave them no choice.
Now, the world has accepted remote working as a new norm, and innovative companies like Utility Warehouse (UW) have made long-term changes to embrace its benefits.
How UW helped staff transition to remote work
The government’s requirement for an instant shift to remote work was demanding for all companies, especially customer-service-focused businesses like UW, which have lots of staff to protect and a large amount of data to deal with. But UW took instant measures to ensure customers didn’t miss out on services and employees were able to work effectively. The company set up over 1,000 staff with new laptops, equipment, and infrastructure to work from home efficiently, transforming the business into a secure, remote working enterprise.
How UW helped Partners transition to remote work
To make matters more complicated, UW didn’t only have its employees and customers to protect. The multiservice provider also counts on a network of over 45,000 Authorised UW Partners. These independent distributors earn money by recommending UW products and services to friends, family, and other people they know. Until the COVID-19 lockdown, Partners predominantly signed up new customers face-to-face over coffees in cafes or friends’ homes – or at events like school fayres. Of course, the pandemic put a stop to this. And UW had to act instantly to protect both its Partners and its business.
UW had always wanted to offer Partners the chance to give remote appointment presentations, and lockdown offered the perfect time to make this happen. So, UW developed and delivered an informative presentation and secure sign-up system. This forward-thinking remote-appointment tool allows Partners to guide prospective customers through online sign-ups in real-time while talking on the phone. This means new customers and Partners view the same screens as they click through the process. Partners can offer to fill in details for customers, or customers can complete the fields themselves. However, customers always enter their own payment details, which remain hidden from the Partner.
With the presentation and sign-up system in place, prospective customers can still get all the info they need to sign up for UW’s multiservice bundles, safe in the knowledge their personal information is secure. Without this system, UW Partners would have struggled to continue their businesses.
Overall, UW has also been able to uphold business as usual. Teams might be working remotely, but this hasn’t stopped Partners from signing up new customers and growing their own Partner teams. Meanwhile, head office staff have been able to help customers from home with no disruption. This has given UW food for thought.
The future of remote work for UW
Thanks to the success of UW’s remote transition, the company welcomed its first cohort of fully remote customer-service representatives at the end of 2020. This team works flexible hours from home, meaning they can work around their own schedules, avoid commutes, and offer additional support for the core UW customer-service team when lines get busy.
Feedback from remote customer-service assistants Eli and Jules
The opportunity to work remotely for the FTSE 250 company attracted multiple recruits to UW. Amongst these, customer-service assistants Eli and Jules have shared their experiences as UW remote team members.
What drew you to the home-based role?
“In the current climate, I didn’t want to go out too much,” Eli said. “I had the equipment at home already, and it felt like a good way of using my time and energy. The benefits are things like the 30-second commute to work, and, every hour and a half, my wife pops in with a cup of tea or something to keep me ticking over. Then there’s the flexible hours, in terms of being able to work hours that suit me. So, if we have appointments or shopping deliveries, I can work my shifts around those.”
“I did a lot of research into UW, and some people I know are Partners, so I had chats with them,” Jules added. “They spoke so highly of UW. I wanted to become part of the team and be a valued member.”
How have you found your training, and how have you found working with your manager?
“My manager Suz is absolutely phenomenal,” Eli said. “Every time I have a question or query, I send her an email, and, within 10–15 minutes, she gets back with the answer or says she’ll look into it. I think the longest I’ve had to wait for a response from her is about an hour. So, in terms of responsiveness and feedback, it’s been great. We also have weekly one-on-ones where we’re constantly reviewing performance. And it’s not a let’s see if we can catch you out one-on-one. It’s a let’s see what you’re doing well and how can we support you one-on-one.”
“Everybody involved in the training from start to finish – and ongoing – is superb,” Jules added. “[The trainers] are a chat or an email away. There are so many ways we can reach out to people within the company. The response time is also spot on. They don’t leave you hanging for days on end.”
How do you socialise with the rest of your team?
“We have a social chat that we use on the side of work,” Eli said. “So, when it gets quiet between calls, someone will ask ‘how’s your day been?’ Or ‘have you had any bad calls? Have you had any great calls? Have you booked any smart meters?’ And then, when it’s quiet, we’ll send a single-sentence reply, and it just keeps the connection going.”
“We also have a weekly team meeting on Zoom where you get to see everyone and have a chat,” he added. “And what adds to it is the additional benefits the company provides, like Christmas gifts and brownies. Then, I won a prize for smart meter bookings, which was a collection of drinks and snacks. And we get to talk about those things. They motivate us to do a little bit more. We do have a very supportive and helpful team.”
“We’ve just started up some [social] Zoom meetings, too,” Jules added. “So, the plan is, on a Saturday night, we’re all going to grab a beer or a glass of wine and nip in and out of the Zoom meeting and chat amongst ourselves.”
What would you say to people who are thinking about applying for a UW role?
“Definitely go for it,” Eli said. “It’s a great company. There’s a great ethos, philosophy, staff support, and staff development, which a lot of other organisations are missing. You have constant, ongoing support every day. And, if you need to put your hand up and ask someone for help every five minutes, you get the response you need. You don’t get people complaining that you’re constantly bugging them. In terms of working from home, I can’t think of anything better. I can’t see a downside to it.”
“I can’t recommend UW enough,’ Jules added. ‘The resources they have available for their employees, the nurturing, the next steps, the reaching out. They’re always checking on the wellbeing of employees. The communications within the company are superb.”
Further growth for UW
UW’s long-term adoption of remote working has proved so successful that UW has now hired further remote teams, including customer-service advisors who offer specialist guidance for customers who need help with in-depth, technical issues.
About Utility Warehouse
Customers throughout the UK cut costs and save time by booking UW’s great value home service bundles. Each customer can combine the utility services they need – energy, broadband, landline, mobile, boiler care, and/or home insurance packages – so they only pay one bill at the end of each month. With just one password to remember, customers can track all home services in one place. Should they need support, they also only need to contact one team – no waiting on hold between call centres.
What’s more, UW doesn’t spend anything on television or radio advertising. Instead, its Partners sign up all customers through word-of-mouth recommendations. Partners can earn up to £370 for every customer they sign up, not to mention additional cash bonuses and incentives when they reach sign-up milestones. And it’s easy to get involved – virtually anyone can become a UW Partner.
It’s no surprise UW has won notable awards that celebrate its excellent customer service and utility bundles. These awards include the Which? Utilities Brand of the Year (2020), Uswitch Best Energy Saving Support (2020, 2019), Uswitch Best Customer Service (2019), and various Moneywise Home Finances Awards (2019).