by Penni McLean-Conner, Northeast Utilities
The first week in October is one of my favorite weeks of the year because we celebrate those who deliver great customer service, or Cracker Jack moments.
This year, my Electric Light & Power column has explored Cracker Jack Moments. Chip Bell describes the Cracker Jack Principle in his latest book, “The 9 ½ Principles of Innovative Service” published by Simple Truths in 2013.
“Service with surprise is like a box of Cracker Jack “. Surprise breaks the monotony of ho-hum, communicates a caring attitude, and fosters an infectious spirit that customers cannot wait to narrate to others,” Bell writes.
Companies across the country celebrate customer service week. National Customer Service Week has been around officially more than 22 years-President George H.W. Bush signed Presidential Proclamation 6484 on Oct. 8, 1992.
This year at Northeast Utilities (NU), we took a different, more inclusive approach to developing our weeklong activities with an eye on addressing key themes from our employee engagement survey.
The themes included developing employees, educating on what other areas of the company do, and recognizing employees and senior management visibility.
To develop our plan, we launched a team of eight key talent employees: those who exhibit high potential and performance to move or advance into leadership roles. The team goal was to thank frontline customer service employees from across our entire service territory in a consistent, top-to-bottom, engaged, one-NU approach. Adding to the challenge was a budget of only $8 per customer service employee to cover an entire week of activities.
The team came up with a plan that has raised expectations, including daily videos of what customer care means to us, peer recognition and open houses that highlight our work processes. All of this was supported with a fun, festive atmosphere and some tempting food-ice cream sundaes, a dessert bar-scavenger hunts and dress theme days.
The daily videos and peer recognition were great tools to recognize employees companywide through social media. Each 90-second video featured at least one customer service employee who described customer service.
Peer recognition was new to our customer service week activities, and it was wildly popular with union and nonunion employees.
We encouraged employees to nominate their peers for recognition. During the week, 25 employees were recognized by their peers for superior customer service.
The open houses, which we staged at our four largest customer service locations, provided an opportunity for the customer service team to tell other employees about what they do. The open houses featured tabletop displays staffed by employees who shared information about their jobs in fun ways. Employees and senior management got to engage with and learn more about other areas of the company. I heard so many customer service employees say they did not know about our bill printing capabilities, revenue assurance, payment assistance efforts, training team and so on. It was wonderful to share how customer service is delivered.
The entire company joined in on the fun of customer service week, from having engineering and accounting folks drop by the open house and learn about our customer service processes to having operations hoist a thank-you banner for employees to drive under on their way to work. If your utility is not celebrating customer service week, think about starting. If you are, I hope you find some of these ideas insightful. The big takeaway for me is the power of pulling together a talented team of employees and giving them a goal. The result exceeded all expectations.
Penni McLean-Conner is the chief customer officer at Northeast Utilities, the largest energy delivery company in New England. A registered professional engineer, McLean-Conner is active in the utility industry, serving on several boards of directors including CS Week and the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy. Her latest book, “Energy Efficiency: Principles and Practices,” is available at www.pennwellbooks.com. Reach her at email@example.com.