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Utility-Customer Partnerships

Engaging the consumer takes on new meaning.

Fortnightly Magazine - October 2010

Nuttall spent 24 years at oil and gas equipment company Varco, most recently as v.p. of information technology.] In my opinion, these roles have given me perspective, business understanding, empathy, an understanding of change management and the vision necessary to be an effective CIO.

While I believe that my substantial business experience outside of the industry and outside of IT has helped me tremendously, I need to recognize that I have seen some very effective utility CIOs that do not have the same experience.

I think it is critical that the CIOs be very knowledgeable about the business they are in, understand the goals and direction of the company, be effective in developing a team, and be strong enough to be an effective member of the senior management team. The effective CIO must be more than strictly a cost-cutting functionary doing only what you are asked to do. A person with these capabilities will be successful, regardless of exactly what his or her previous experience has been.


Getting Engaged

Fortnightly: How do you find out what the customer wants and needs?

Jackson, Oncor: This year we launched a series of open house-style events and a website,, inviting customers to get answers and information. At 100 ‘Ask Oncor’ open houses this year, we will have subject matter experts on energy efficiency, smart meters, and vegetation management—among other topics—as well as free food and energy-saving giveaways. We invite homeowner and neighborhood associations, as well as local elected and appointed officials.

Online, our commitment to customers is to answer their questions within two business days. The response has been tremendous, with hundreds of questions being asked and answered both face-to-face and online, and this feedback helps guide our newly-created customer experience council.

We also regularly visit executives, conduct executive workshops, review customer satisfaction surveys—especially their verbatim comments—and assign executives to manage accounts, keeping lines of communications open.

Schinski, PPL: PPL Electric Utilities conducts a wide variety of market research to find out what customers would like us to do to enhance their experience. We regularly conduct online and hard-copy surveys of residential, commercial and industrial customers to gather both quantitative and qualitative information on improving our bills, interactive voice response systems, Web site and other ways in which we interact with users. We also track industry-wide research by firms like J.D. Power & Associates and Chartwell for additional viewpoints on what utility customers are asking for.

The Web site also gives us indications of new and changing customer demands. Earlier this year, we determined that, for the first time, more customers were using self-service options on our Web site and our customer-care center’s interactive phone system, rather than speaking with a customer-service representative. While customer-service representatives are still a vital part of our customer response, we are also listening to the customer and considering what other self-service options we can provide.

Our Web site ( allows customers to look at their bills and energy use over time, see how they are using energy and receive customer-tailored tips on how to