Implementing Document Systems for Utility Customer Communications

by Nick Romano, Prinova Inc.

Utilities have ongoing challenges. In addition to dealing with issues around deregulation and increasing environmental concerns, electric utilities have a growing need to cultivate more positive relationships with commercial and consumer customers. These customer challenges might seem different from those of other industries, yet increasingly more utilities are dealing with issues the financial services and insurance industries have been facing for some time. Utilities recognize the need to differentiate by offering and communicating customer-relevant products and services and by implementing systems that allow them to meet this goal. Establishing a document center of excellence (DCOE) can play a central role in success.

Establishing a DCOE within your company might sound unusual; however, most critical functions within every organization have a similar notion of central governance: legal, marketing, information technology (IT), R&D and human resources are typical examples. Despite recognizing the criticality of customer experience to a business, utilities sometimes overlook the potential of a laser focus on customer communications when it comes to achieving significant cost savings and streamlined operations, as well as creating happier customers.

More Than Just Billing

A DCOE is an enabling body that allows an organization to develop and efficiently implement specific communications projects with high ROI, balancing longer-term strategic considerations with the realities of day-to-day document management operations. In other words, the charter of the DCOE is to ensure efficiency and cost savings in document systems while fostering advanced techniques and abilities in customer communications. The goal is to move from customer information systems (CIS) that solely address billing needs to capturing relevant information about customers to deliver more relevant and quality communications. A DCOE brings the right stakeholders, resources and process owners together in a forum that allows for greater control and governance over documents and communications.

As with any center of excellence, a DCOE needs executive buy-in and ongoing support. One way to ensure this high-level sponsorship is to establish a DCOE steering committee that includes executive membership from all involved stakeholder departments. A cross-functional membership helps ensure that the DCOE perspective, objectives and activities align closely with the broad demands of daily operations and the critical technologies that make them work.

The DCOE should have cross-functional members so it has the right knowledge, skills, abilities and responsibilities necessary to address the many technical, process and business issues that often arise with producing customer communications; it’s best if the members include in-house resources and third-party providers. A highly skilled, cross-functional DCOE team will promote innovation that results in competitive advantage through a creative collaboration grounded in maintaining efficient, effective day-to-day operations.

Realizing the Potential of Customer Communications

A DCOE fosters a more integrated approach to document creation and customer communications. The integration involves a mindset that marries design and development. Document design is concerned with the aesthetic appearance of each document, the content it contains and the color and graphic elements that propel the message. Carefully considering these design elements is essential to realize the full communication potential of an organization’s documents. Development is concerned with bringing those designs to life in the operational world.

Working at the interface between design and delivery, a DCOE can help an organization ensure communications are readable, understandable and inspire the desired response. For example, many utilities offer some type of complex billing product with favorable pricing to customers who are willing to vary the amount and frequency of their payments according to wholesale market changes. Having a governing DCOE makes it possible to ensure the monthly invoice is an effective vehicle for announcing incentives.

In many organizations, existing technologies and systems present a barrier to optimizing business communications and achieving strategic results. The DCOE can effect change in this area by ushering changes in processes and systems. As a result, business stakeholders will be empowered with more direct control over managing business user content.

Measure and Improve

Peter Drucker, the well-known and respected management consultant, once said, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” The DCOE ensures results are centrally monitored and managed. Process stakeholders and technical resources must be accountable for measuring and tracking results and reporting back to the governing DCOE. For customer communications, key performance indicators might include time to market, customer satisfaction, response rate for calls to action and cost of delivery.

With a mindset aimed to measure and improve and acting on behalf of the organization, the DCOE makes decisions based on facts and designs and selects communication strategies grounded in real-world measurement data. This continual pursuit leads to activities that save money, strengthen customer communications and ensure a meaningful ROI.


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