20 July 2020

Oleg Nykonorov: Gas market had no customer service. We have created it

Regional Gas Company transformed the former regional gas companies into service companies offering services to eight million customers. Oleg Nykonorov, CEO, RGC, tells about innovative and all-in-one solutions that underlie the company's success.


Citing Jeff Bezos, "In the old world, you devoted 30% of your time to building a great service and 70% of your time to shouting about it.  In the new world, that inverts."

The service really should speak for itself. Bezos talks about service and changes.

Ten years ago, RGC was established to transform the then existing regional gas companies into "civilized" service companies.

To do this, it was necessary to turn the Soviet-style "gas offices" with their communal past into contemporary customer-oriented service centers. You had to create from the scratch what is called "customer service".

At the same time, it is impossible to bring in the service from the outside; people working within the company must be aware of the customers' needs and strive to satisfy them. To do this, they must accept "customer-oriented" mindset as their own value and share it with the company.

Did you have to replace your associates to create the service from scratch?

Not at all. We infected them with the virus of transformation. In gas companies, ensuring safe and uninterrupted gas supply is carved into their DNA. Here professionalism is brought to reflexes. Our task is to add another gene to DNA,  the service gene. So that in their daily work our associates are focused on clients and ready to transform the company in line with their needs. That is why we create enabling environment for our people to change.

To this end, a staff development strategy has been developed and programs have been implemented. We began to build the appropriate infrastructure to implement them. Advanced training and development centers have already been established in several regions. In those center, teams of trainers use the concept of micro learning, i.e. in incremental steps, from one area of knowledge to another, our associates develop a habit of continuous learning.

For managers, RGC Leaders, the MBA-based program, was launched at the leading Ukrainian business schools in Lviv and Kyiv. At the end of this program, teams prepare their investment projects and prove whose project is best during the battles. The best projects  go all the way to being implemented. We already have two successful startups.

Now they call everything a startup, the coffee shop and the new bakery

We have real startups, you can even call them academic startups. Let's take a robotic factory in Lviv created by the winners of the RGC Leaders' battle. It was developed in the former garage, classic pathway for startups!

If you put all the jokes aside, the former repair and transportation shop now hosts RGC Production, the largest production of advanced gas regulating points in Ukraine. Here welding robots and automated painting stations work at the assembly lines, and the components and accessories come from the leading global brands. This project is growing; the production has increased six times over the year. It also grows in qualitative terms. RGC Smart project was launched there recently. Our associates took on developing this project with the express aim to simplify the relationship between the customers and gas companies.

Are you going to produce "smart meters"?

We are already producing them. Smart systems that relieve gas consumers of the routine obligation to transmit monthly meter readings. The data are automatically transmitted to DSOs and generated in the customer-friendly form in online systems, for example, personal account on 104.ua website or mobile applications.

Smart is like an icing on the cake that we prepared for our customers. To create it, we had to build and set up infrastructure; we started by replacing wooden abacus with personal computers. Thanks to us, Internet appeared in many settlements for the first time.

Now we remember those times with a slight touch of irony. Today's automation tasks look much more complex, but also much more interesting.

The latest project we have implemented is the first fully automated RGC Metrological Center in Ukraine. In fact, it is a metrological smart factory, where the automated equipment produced by the leading manufacturers from Europe and the United States service 200,000 gas meters per year which makes the quarter of Ukraine's needs. Here the whole cycle is thought over: from dismantling the device at the client, packing and transportation in special cars, to sterile processing and precise verification.

Proper accounting is certainly important, but how will the customer feel it, what will change for the customer?

Speed, accuracy and transparency of verification are important for all our customers. That is why the Center works with all types of meters including those used by DSOs and even TSO. We plan to build several such centers to serve Ukrainian gas consumers in various regions.

We believe that the implementation of such breakthrough projects is changing the market landscape. We were convinced of this when we built a network of contemporary customer service centers; it now includes more than 130 such centers.

It's like a supermarket chain in Ukraine ...

The network of our centers 104 Client Space is exactly the largest one in any energy or utility market. Quality of paramount importance, though. These are spaces where any visitor can access gas-related services in the most comfortable environment. Here you can solve any issue, master online services and do it fast.

Currently, 3.5 million of our customers use online services. To evaluate this path, remember the evolution of the phone. It appeared before the last century as a tool that provided voice communication to people at a distance. Now the phone in our hands is also a camera, navigator, Internet terminal, whatever you want. While the function of voice communication in it went almost to the last place.

Our customers also used to come to us on foot to pass a note with the numbers of meter readings, and in some regions, for example, it was customary to write meter readings on the fences of their homes. And then gas meter readers would walk down the street and wrote down these numbers in a copybook.

We create a service ecosystem that allows our customers to forget about the negative perception of gas services in the past.

That is, the gas meter readers will never knock on your door again?

We know that it is more convenient for customers when they themselves choose the time, place and form for contact with any representative of the utility company. Online services allow you to completely avoid direct contact. Under quarantine, our online services ensure the customers' safety when interacting with gas companies.

During quarantine, many Ukrainians reassessed their values when they realized the importance of basic services such as uninterrupted energy supply and the availability of service 24/7.

We are not trying to reinvent the gas pipe. We create services that change the lives of average Joe for the better.