Customer service culture built, not born

As we roll into another year that promises unprecedented change in the utility industry, consider giving your organization a gift that can smooth the way forward: great customer service.

In a recent article in Intelligent Utility You are leaving Western's site., authors Patty Cruz and Rebecca Shiflea analyze practices at companies known for outstanding customer service and offer 10 steps utilities can take to cultivate a successful customer service culture:

  • 1. Engage leadership – Organizational philosophy starts at the top. Utility executives must communicate that everyone and every job exists to support delivering electricity to customers and community.
  • 2. Engage customers – The expectations customers have about utility services are changing. Use different avenues of outreach—public meetings, social media, focus groups, etc.—to learn about those expectations and design products and services to meet your customers’ needs.
  • 3. Hire the right people – With an aging workforce, utilities are likely to be doing a lot of recruiting and hiring during the next several years. Consider this an opportunity to look for candidates who have not only the right skills for the job, but also the right attitude to support a customer service culture.
  • 4. Cultural alignment – Improving the customer experience must be the responsibility of everyone in the organization, not just the customer service department. The structure, policies and procedures should also support those goals. Rigid policies can be a barrier to good customer service.
  • 5. Educate and train – Employee orientation is the place to start telling new hires what great service looks like at the utility. Explain how the interests of each employee are tied to the overall organization and how both benefit from improving service. Don’t limit training to new employees, either. Companies that are known for having the best customer service make training a continuous process.
  • 6. Retain the best – Make providing great service fun and rewarding. Even employees who do not directly interact with customers should understand how their work ultimately affects customers. Build a work environment that engages and motivates employees to improve performance, and your utility will attract and retain superior talent.
  • 7. Empower your employees – Provide customer-facing employees with a framework—the outcome should be favorable for the customer, not hurt the utility (e.g., financially, legally) and enhance the relationship between the organization and the customer—and let them explore innovative service solutions.
  • 8. Communicate service success – Recognizing and sharing employee accomplishments when they deliver exceptional customer service reinforces its importance to the organization. Examples of excellent customer service should be communicated both internally and externally.
  • 9. Reward and recognize excellent customer service – You get more of the behavior you reward, so develop ways to recognize and reward specific employees for their good service behaviors. When you conduct surveys on customer satisfaction and the quality of service, share the results with all employees so that everyone knows of the results and receives recognition for what is going well.
  • 10. Create and track metrics – The act of measuring can create a sense of competition in employees, and even encourage them to compete with their own records. Setting goals and measuring performance also provides the ability to hold individuals, groups and an entire organization accountable for the resulting success or failure.

Read the full article for more insights and examples of how utilities have improved their customer service programs. Happy New Year, and may all your customers be satisfied.

Source: Intelligent Utility, 12/11/15

SRP recognized for excelling at customer service

Congratulations to Western customer Salt River Project You are leaving WAPA.gov. (SRP) for landing a spot on JD Power’s 2014 list of customer champions. You are leaving WAPA.gov.

J.D. Power selected the 2014 Customer Champions based on an independent and unbiased evaluation of customer feedback, opinions and perceptions gathered from J.D. Power studies conducted in the United States in 2013. The companies performed the highest among more than 600 evaluated brands across nine industries, based on the J.D. Power 5 Ps: People, Presentation, Price, Process and Product.

SRP’s accomplishment is even more impressive, given the industry’s current reputation for indifference—at best—to customer needs. The secret to the Arizona utility’s success, according to a story on the industry news site Intelligent Utility, You are leaving WAPA.gov. is making a priority of providing value to the consumer.

In the interview, SRP Chief Communications Executive Gena Trimble explained that customer service was SRP’s culture, and pointed to a menu of large and small programs that illustrate her point. Programs such as a prepayment service, time-of-use rates and collaborating with other utilities on energy-saving concepts keep the focus on customer needs. Every day, SRP employees share both negative and positive stories from inside and outside the company and industry. These “customer service minutes” give everyone a better understanding of customer issues and challenges.

Other factors that are key to supporting a customer service culture include hiring and cultivating employees who share that value, doing research to find out what customers want and investing in technology that improves operations. SRP Associate General Manager Mike Lowe also advises really listening to customers—easy to suggest, but not so easy to implement. Listening may involve monitoring channels, taking in feedback and making the effort to ask and follow up. These are time-consuming steps that ultimately pay off in loyal customers who are more likely to work with their utility through changing times. Source: Intelligent Utility, 9/16/14

Congratulations to intelligent utility Mountain View Electric Association

We in Energy Services like to spread the word about our customers’ innovative programs and best practices, but we like it even more when others in the industry take notice. The online news site Intelligent UtilityRedirecting to a non-government siterecently interviewed Mountain View Electric AssociationRedirecting to a non-government site about the cooperative’s new TextPower system for communicating about outages.

MVEA customers are able to opt in to receive text updates about power outages in their area, and to report outages. MVEA also texts status updates to employees, so they have the latest information to give customers who contact the utility by phone. Read the interview to find out how MVEA is using smart communications technology to improve customer service.

Learn more about what mobile communication can do for customer relations and field service at Utility Mobile Enterprise Systems,Redirecting to a non-government site Sept. 15-16, in Phoenix, AZ.

Resources exist to help utilities talk about smart grid

How to talk to customers, if you have to  Redirecting to a non-government site is a story in Intelligent Utility on Jan. 15 that suggests utilities are not using the resources available to them to prepare their customers for smart grid adoption.

Part of the problem, author Phil Carson acknowledges, is that “smart grid” means different things to different utilities, and often something else entirely to consumers. This has made it easy for opponents to co-opt the term and claim the technology is controversial without having to explain themselves.

But utilities should not use this lack of clarity as an excuse not to engage customers and regulators about what the smart grid means in their specific circumstances.  In addition to a past story mentioned in the article and a reference to the Association for Demand Response and Smart Grid Redirecting to a non-government site, readers will find links to more related reading listed to the right of the story. These resources offer utilities the building blocks they need to communicate the value propositions smart grid represents to different types of consumers—whatever the technology and stage of deployment.  

Perhaps the most important point in the story is that if utilities don’t talk to consumers, others will take control of the story. The smart grid promises to fundamentally change the way power providers do business. Utilities that don’t clearly explain all the implications to their customers, Carson warns, could be writing their own epitaphs.