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Severn Trent Wins Utility Industry Achievement Award

With every entrant in this year’s awards striving for achievement, the Achievement Award, sponsored by Price Waterhouse, was one of the hardest to judge. However, Severn Trent was the unanimous choice for best delivering the ‘excellence that goes beyond the closed world of the utility industry’ that the award’s specification asked for. It won the award for its work in instigating a customer service debate across different sectors and different countries, and for the way it used the debate to raise its profile.

Its International Service Study drew comparisons between the service cultures and performance of a variety of businesses in the US and Britain. One judge said: It’s given Severn Trent an international profile that goes beyond the utilities and demonstrates leadership in customer service, a field where the company wants to be seen to excel.’

The study, a public-private partnership between Severn Trent, the Department of Trade and Industry and the Department of National Heritage, brought together business academics from both countries. It was even said to have attracted the interest of Vice-President Al Gore and Britain’s President of the Board of Trade, Margaret Beckett. A second judge added: ‘It’s a first step in the process of achieving an international benchmark in customer service.'

One judge concluded: ‘It was a great debate, but a difficult choice that in the end was settled in favor of a project that gained a significant profile for Severn Trent.’ Utilities don’t always get things right. And such is their profile and so high are the public’s expectations of them, post privatization that their mistakes are more often than not played out under the full glare of publicity.

It’s not the job of Utility Week, or for that matter any other independent media, to act as a PR mouthpiece for utilities. When they get things wrong we have to say so. But there is a time when it is right to acknowledge what utilities do well and celebrate best practice, where people have gone beyond what might normally be expected of them in their normal day’s work.

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