Transforming Utility Customer Service: Using Robotic Process Automation to Deliver Value

(Editor’s Note: Links to previous parts of the Eversource Energy bots series will be at the bottom).

Introduction by Penni McLean-Conner, chief customer office at Eversource Energy and regulator Transforming Utility Customer Service contributor to Electric Light & Power:

Throughout this series, we have explored the benefits of bots for utilities, discussing the technology, qualitative and quantitative components, and employee engagement considerations for introducing robotic business process automation (RPA) technology (bots) into organizations.

Now, we will share how Eversource is using RPA to deliver value.  Rockie Solomon is dedicated to leading Eversource’s RPA transformation for the business.  In this strategic leadership role, Rockie is leading the business process assessment, benefits realization management, change management and employee communication strategy while also collaborating with key partners on defining the Center of Excellence (CoE) standards and approaches that will be used going forward. Now for the rest of the story by Rockie:

Background

Eversource wants to improve customer experience (CX) and employee engagement, while lowering costs.  The employee experience (EX), CX and lowering costs are issues, that, when unaddressed, erode utilities’ ability to retain talent and elicit unwanted attention from regulators.  To address opportunities, in 2018 starting with processes in its Customer Operations organization, Eversource moved forward with RPA.

Launching RPA

To demonstrate the immediate benefits of the technology, customer operations partnered with Ernst and Young (EY) to deliver our first bot in an area with extremely high value.  Manpower limitations prevented the completion of the skip-tracing work queue, a credit and collections back-office process.  Consequently, about $1.2 million in bad-debt recovery was left on the table annually. Ouch! So, in mid-2018 skip-tracing became Eversource’s first process automation using unattended RPA technology, which does not require user intervention for the bot to begin a process, and the energy company has realized material bottom line savings.

By transferring the skip-tracing task to a bot, customer operations can now complete transactions that they were previously unable to perform.  Within the first eight months, over $2.5M has been transferred to eligible accounts by a bot, avoiding third-party collection fees and a degraded recovery rate. Ka-ching!

 Broadly Expanding RPA

Using employee input to solicit, and then trim, a list of more than 700 possible meter-to-cash automations by 90 percent, customer operations embarked upon a quest to overcome voluminous, onerous, manual, back-office drivers of employee and customer dissatisfaction. Empowering employees during preliminary stages secured their continued support and commitment to the speed-to-value automation development lifecycles that soon followed.

Working collaboratively with the bots, employee and customer experience is improving. For example, income-eligible customers within an area of Eversource’s Massachusetts’s territory can qualify for a discounted distribution service rate.  More than 14,000 of these transactions are processed annually, each requiring eight minutes of manual work to add or extend a discount on just one customer’s account. The manual process hindered timely and accurate processing of the discount rate transactions, resulting in errors, late and corrected bills, which are drivers of customer dissatisfaction.  Employee feedback was used to prioritize this opportunity to transform the customer experience using RPA.  A bot now completes a discount rate transaction in two minutes, eliminating error-prone and backlogged work for employees while improving Eversource’s ability to provide a desirable billing experience for these customers.

Since the start of 2019, four process automations have been implemented with six in progress for Q1 implementations as well.  These 10 automations reduce manual steady state annual work by 18,000 hours. Fifteen additional automations are planned in 2019, including attended automations that will provide contact center employees with the ability to initiate the completion of routine customer inquiries in real-time while on the phone with customers.

Sustaining RPA

Eversource is expanding automation and establishing CoE standards and guidelines.  Employee feedback will continue to help identify and prioritize potential automations, creating an internal catalyst for value creation throughout the enterprise. Targeting manual processes with interminable backlogs will continue to reduce, and eventually eliminate overtime expenditures. Similarly, selecting processes for which there are only a few subject matter experts (SMEs) has the potential of eliminating the need to backfill vacancies when resources retire or transition into new roles. Thus, RPA is making the future of manual operations, EX and CX a present-day reality, empowering Eversource to deliver customer, employee and financial value.

                                                                                                                            

About the author: Rockie Solomon is the Customer Operations RPA-CoE Strategic Business Lead at Eversource Energy, the largest utility in the Northeast.  Rockie holds a Master of Business Administration degree with a concentration in Corporate Innovation. 

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Click on these links to read more of the Eversource series on bots and customer service by Penni McLean-Conner and Rockie Solomon:

Implementing Bots

Candidates for robotic process automation.

Benefits of Bots for Customers and for Utilities

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