Customer backlash over dynamic pricing and the smart-grid caught the industry unprepared. CIOs and top customer specialists share their strategies for engagement and attaining consumer...
Managing Service Quality: The Customer Is Always Right
Service-quality improvements need to be thought through in advance and managed.
Customer information systems (CIS) are almost never justified and implemented to realize dramatic gains in quality of service. Revenue improvements? Yes. Rates management flexibility? You bet. Delinquency and write-off improvements? Sure. Statutory pressure, including introduction of deregulation? Maybe not as often these days, but still true. Technology consistency, supportability, and application integration? Absolutely. This means service-quality improvement needs to be thought through in advance and managed.
External Customer Service Quality
External customer service quality is probably the most talked about area of service quality delivery, and there are several meaningful standards already in use that can be measured prior to implementing a new CIS and managed closely through going live and stabilization. First, the easy ones:
- Average speed of answer or average hold time equates directly to customer satisfaction and, curiously, can directly correlate to average call length. An angry call is a long call.
- Number of calls per billed customer and per billing cycle should be tracked and trended.
- Bad bill complaints, justified or not, should be measured, and satisfaction with resolution of bill complaints should at least be sampled.
- Timeliness of field calls and satisfaction with the outcomes are both meaningful.
- Executive and regulator complaint letters, justified or not, are important indicators. They should be tracked and reported.
Two difficult-to-capture areas of customer service diagnostics can lead to great improvements:
- Most of us don't call our utility to chat; we have a reason. If you can discover the highest-ranking call reasons and prevent people from calling in the first place, everybody wins, including the customer.
- An alarming number of calls into the call center are from the same customers, often with the same complaints. Measuring first call closure can uncover process issues, authority issues, metering and estimation issues, and gaping holes in system delivery as seen by the customer. Your customer service representatives (CSRs) know why people are calling a second or third time. Sit them down, listen to them, and then take action.
Minimizing unwanted call volume will involve the entire organization because there will be underlying issues that the call center will not be able to fix.
Organizational Customer Service Quality
The real reason top-quality service providers are able to consistently meet or beat their own tough customer standards is that they have a strong service-quality ethic embedded in their organizations. People in those organizations believe that service quality is imperative and part of their every day, personal job.
If mapping all of the interdepartmental service touch points in your utility isn't a part of your CIS implementation and stabilization plan, it should be. Every part of the organization gets inputs from other internal sources and passes its outputs to people downstream. The delivery requirements and quality and timeliness standards for this departmental baton-passing are sometimes not agreed to and often are undocumented.
Technical Delivery Service Quality
A strong technical service-quality ethic is a great enabler for an organization, giving people needed tools and information. The basic areas to manage include:
- Every full outage needs to be