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South East Water: Helping customers manage their accounts with ease using Google Cloud

About South East Water

South East Water supplies 521 million liters of drinking water per day to 2.2 million people in the southeast of England. Its vision is to be the water company people want to be supplied by and want to work for.

Industries: Utilities
Location: United Kingdom

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About CTS

CTS is one of Europe’s largest Google Cloud Managed Service Providers. A cloud-native leader since 2008, they offer unique Google Cloud solutions.

By leveraging Firebase on Google Cloud, South East Water built a digital application that empowers customers to manage their own accounts online.

Google Cloud results

  • Handles hundreds of thousands of transactions with no downtime
  • Empowers 250,000 customers to manage their accounts in real time
  • Enables developers to trial new ideas quickly and cost-effectively by leveraging the Google Cloud infrastructure

Powers a customer portal that handles requests in 30 seconds

Water, the one drink the world can’t live without, keeps every system in the body functioning properly. And across the southeast of England, 2.2 million people rely on the same provider to access it every day: South East Water. But what makes this company unique is not only its commitment to supplying this vital service 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, but to match it with a supportive and empowering customer experience.

“We’re in a unique position as a public water supplier in that, depending on where customers live, they don’t have a choice regarding who provides their water. But our vision is to be the water company people want to be supplied by,” explains Tanya Sephton, Customer Services Director at South East Water.

“We listen to our customers’ feedback to match our services to their expectations. Google Cloud gives us everything we need to build an app that empowers us to act on that feedback quickly and cost-effectively, so we can continually increase our offerings to customers while keeping their bills affordable.”

Richard Bannister, Business Services Systems Manager, South East Water

To that end, South East Water is responsive on social media, has a dedicated team of customer support agents at its call center, and offers community events and visits to water treatment sites. In August 2020, South East Water went one step further and launched My Account, a digital service designed to give customers more control over bill management, payment options, home moves, and tracking their water usage.

“We’re striving to innovate the ways we communicate with customers to help them get the best from our services. We know that having the right technology in place is the key to delivering on that promise,” says Tanya. So to bring the My Account project to life, South East Water stepped away from the legacy infrastructure it traditionally relied upon and turned to the cloud.

The company selected Google Cloud as its platform of choice for building the My Account project from scratch. It was looking for a more agile and cost-effective environment to test new technologies and develop new services. It also wanted services that were easy to integrate with its on-premises hybrid environment, plenty of computer power to test new functionalities, and authentication to support its customer-facing portal.

“We listen to our customers’ feedback to match our services to their expectations. Google Cloud gives us everything we need to build an app that empowers us to act on that feedback quickly and cost-effectively, so we can continually increase our offerings to customers while keeping their bills affordable,” explains Richard Bannister, Business Services Systems Manager at South East Water.

“Trialing new projects on our legacy infrastructure requires a big investment in time and money. We’d need to procure, buy, and install servers just to get started. Now, we easily leverage the Google Cloud infrastructure to trial new ideas, build them with Firebase, and move on.”

Richard Bannister, Business Services Systems Manager, South East Water

Bringing projects from vision to reality, quickly and cost-effectively

To build the My Account portal, Richard’s team wanted to work with Firebase technology: the mobile development platform on Google Cloud for building and growing applications. “Firebase is perfect for what we need. We want to build and grow a mobile app, establish access control and authentication to make sure our customers’ data is secure, while leveraging the core infrastructure of Google Cloud to build and host our application. We also want to get it hooked into our on-premises system,” Richard explains. To help get the application up and running quickly, South East Water turned to CTS, a leading Google Premier Partner. It specializes in accelerating digital transformation through a modernized infrastructure to enable businesses to make smarter data-driven decisions, and instill a culture of innovation and collaboration with Google Cloud.

A Firebase expert from the CTS team helped Richard’s team get started with a series of workshops on how to set up and configure its new platform. These workshops helped explain the Google Cloud architecture and enabled the team to to set the project up in the right way. CTS was on hand to help the team with Firebase queries and it used its expertise to perform code reviews and keep the project moving. “Coming from a tradition of using 20-year-old legacy equipment to developing applications on Google Cloud requires a mind shift. We had a lot to learn, from terminologies to troubleshooting. But CTS distilled the complexities of our project into steps we can now manage ourselves,” Richard recalls.

South East Water is now using Firestore to develop new features for My Account with no maintenance windows or downtime. With Cloud Functions, the company built a suite of APIs to run My Accounts functions across multiple environments, such as its on-premises systems. Richard’s team also keeps South East Water’s systems reliably communicating with each other by using Pub/Sub to schedule events and data streams.

“Traditionally, we’ve procured software to match our on-premises infrastructure. But as new technologies come out, we’re learning smarter and quicker ways to leverage them,” he shares. “Trialing new projects on our legacy infrastructure requires a big investment in time and money. We’d need to procure, buy, and install servers just to get started. Now, we easily leverage the Google Cloud infrastructure to trial new ideas, build them with Firebase, and move on,” says Richard.

It took South East Water five months to develop the My Account application from scratch and get it live. “We’re a customer-centric utilities company, not a technology company, so I’m very proud of what we’ve been able to develop in such a short time,” says Richard. Since My Accounts went live, South East Water has rolled out two new releases and plans to continue adding functionalities over the coming 12 to 18 months.

“We’re always looking for innovative ways to help and support our customers, and now, having established our new development environment on Google Cloud with guidance from CTS, we can explore new tools for pushing the boundaries of how we interact with them as a utility company.”

Tanya Sephton, Customer Services Director, South East Water

Enabling better experiences for customers and employees

Another testament to the project’s success is the fact that there has been a big increase in sign ups to the My Account application. Throughout January and February 2021, sign ups were double the previous average. “We’ve had hundreds of thousands of transactions going through the My Account application, and that can be people getting their balance or making a payment. For example, 25,000 people have used it just to update their payment details, instead of calling our contact center. This is excellent news because it shows that they’re embracing the autonomy that we provide with a self-service digital platform,“ Tanya shares.

Previously, it could take up to five days to receive, validate, and action a customer request such as moving home through the customer service call center. With the My Account portal, South East Water is making it possible for customers to get what they need within 30 seconds of submitting a request. And because customers can manage their own accounts online, customer services agents have more time to help customers who need extra support on the phone. “We’ve noticed a real improvement in the experience of both customers and agents since My Account went live, which is the best indication of success for us as a company that always strives to get a 10 out of 10 satisfaction mark on customer services,” says Tanya.

Keeping innovation up and customers happy

This is just the start for South East Water. It has recently conducted a proof of concept with support from CTS to consider using technologies such as AutoML and Speech-to-Text to continue building on the My Account project and beyond. “We’re always looking for innovative ways to help and support our customers,” says Tanya, “and now, having established our new development environment on Google Cloud with guidance from CTS, we can explore new tools for pushing the boundaries of how we interact with them as a utility company.”

Tell us your challenge. We're here to help.

Contact us

About South East Water

South East Water supplies 521 million liters of drinking water per day to 2.2 million people in the southeast of England. Its vision is to be the water company people want to be supplied by and want to work for.

Industries: Utilities
Location: United Kingdom

About CTS

CTS is one of Europe’s largest Google Cloud Managed Service Providers. A cloud-native leader since 2008, they offer unique Google Cloud solutions.