Advancing Customer Service by Leveraging Resource Groups

by Penni McLean-Conner, Northeast Utilities

Recently I was amazed to learn that the Public Service of New Hampshire Women’s Committee originated in 1926 and is still in place. The group celebrated its 85th anniversary in 2011 by donning authentic 1920s attire. The original purpose of the women’s group was to support charitable giving, networking and one another. These days the organization is evolving just as many resource groups across the country are evolving to provide greater support of corporate business objectives.

Quick Facts About Resource Groups

Resource groups are formed around a shared interest or common goal. These groups also are referred to as affinity or networking groups. The groups are on the rise in business because they advance business objectives.

Affinity groups serve as key drivers for diversity and inclusion goals such as employee engagement, recruitment and retention of talent. But resource groups go further, serving to advance business goals in supplier diversity, customer service and sales.

The most common resource group among companies is a wome’s group. Other resource groups include gay and lesbian, multicultural, military veterans and people with disabilities. Because resource groups form around shared or common interests, they also can include groups such as working parents, single moms and new employees.

Resource Group Best Practices

Successful resource groups are not accidental. Rather, the most successful companies build some common practices into their resource groups:

  • Governance framework or charter. Resource groups thrive best if there is a defined governance by which they align their operations. This charter should include a mission statement, short- and longterm goals and linkage of goals to the company’s business goals. The charter can further define how the affinity group will achieve its shortand long-term goals.
  • Executive sponsorship. Resource groups need a voice. The best voice is one in the senior ranks of the company. Supporting affinity groups with an executive sponsor also supports aligning the activities of the group with business goals.
  • Alignment of goals. Successful affinity groups align tightly with corporate goals and strategies. For example, if a goal is to enhance employee engagement, then the resource group might adopt that same goal.
  • Voluntary membership. Membership should be voluntary.
  • Budget. The most successful affinity groups are supported with corporate funding often from a diversity budget.
  • Signature activities or events. The most successful affinity groups have one or two signature activities that provide content and value to group attendees. These activities range from educational offerings and community outreach to networking events.
  • Recognition. Resource groups are most successful when supported by the company through recognition and acknowledgment for their work. This is most successful if the recognition also links to the success of corporate goals.

Customer service leaders are interested in resource groups because they can provide valuable insight into customer service and new product offerings. Tapping into these groups can provide early insight and feedback into new service offerings, proposed communications and usability testing.

An example of tapping into a resource group is when we were working on a redesign of our online service turnon functionality. We knew our service area is home to many colleges and universities in and around Boston. When these students arrive in the fall and leave in the spring, we are always challenged to support the increased activity via live-voice answer. Our goal was to increase online usage among students. Here is where we tapped into the diversity of our company: We recruited our co-ops and interns to serve as testers for the new application. Their feedback was enlightening. The redesigned turn-on self-service application doubled the amount of self-service transactions completed on our website.

Launching a resource group more than 85 years ago in New Hampshire was groundbreaking. Today resource groups are more prevalent. Companies have an opportunity to further align resource groups to business goals. These groups will positively affect human resource objectives such as engagement, recruitment and retention. But resource groups also can enhance customer service product offerings, marketing and communications. Utility customer service leaders are wise to tap into these resource groups.


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 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. pennwell Reach her at Penelope.

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