South Carolina co-op MCEC improved customer service and productivity.
In recent years, the Mid-Carolina Electric Cooperative (MCEC) service area has seen an explosion of residential, industrial and commercial development. With such rapid growth in its customer base, the not-for-profit electric distribution utility, headquartered in Lexington, S.C., implemented many improvements to increase efficiency. One concern was its reliance on manual processes and how that would hamper its ability to grow and provide satisfactory customer service.
Customer satisfaction is a top priority for MCEC, which is owned by more than 40,000 member-owners, making it the fifth largest of the 20 electric cooperatives in South Carolina. Together, the co-ops serve more than 500,000 members located across 70 percent of the state.
Employees all across MCEC spent hours filing and retrieving hard copies of documents. When customers had questions about an invoice, they typically called MCEC for details. Answering inquiries about older documents was difficult because they were archived in file cabinets and sometimes, no copies were kept at all.
MCEC’s document imaging system offered very limited functionality and was installed on just one computer. Associates would have to wait to use a single workstation to access the documents they needed to complete their work. The system was used for archiving, but its limited indexing and search capabilities made finding documents difficult.
To ensure its growth would not be held back by the inefficiencies of paper processes, MCEC began to look for a document management solution to streamline administrative duties and enable MCEC associates to properly service customers. The co-op selected an enterprise document management, imaging and workflow software for use in the customer service, accounting and finance departments. It was integrated with a financial application suite and several homegrown applications that run on an Oracle platform. Integration establishes a direct connection between business system records and documents stored in the document repository, enabling users to retrieve supporting documentation directly from their business system screens.
Improving information sharing
MCEC converted 300,000 existing document images from a proprietary format into TIFF files that were imported into the new system. Instead of waiting to use a single workstation to access these documents, users can now instantly retrieve them. The browser-based complement to the client extends instant document access to employees at other locations.
Allowing employees in remote locations to immediately retrieve documents has improved information sharing between offices. Instead of calling headquarters and waiting for faxes to arrive, employees immediately pull up the information they need on their screens.
Speeding Customer Service
Though it is just one part of MCEC’s commitment to excellent customer service, its document management software improves the ability to quickly answer customers’ billing inquiries by putting exact copies of bills, applications and other documents at employees’ fingertips.
Now vendors send documents electronically to MCEC. MCEC uses the software to capture these PDF files, which contain the front and back sides of bills, and automatically imports the data. Applications, customer correspondence and other documents are also scanned or imported into the document management system. To access a bill, a customer service representative simply types in identifying criteria, such as a customer’s name or service number. Previously a CSR could not access a copy of an older bill but now he or she can instantly view the bill in question and resolve issues while the customer is on the phone.
Prior to implementing a document management system, digging through paper files was a frustrating and time-consuming process. Storing documents electronically has reduced labor-intensive tasks. Staff members are more productive because they are no longer dealing with reams of paper. The moment they scan documents, the information becomes available to authorized users anywhere.
Another difficulty MCEC experienced with manual archiving was that documents were typically grouped by a single identifier, such as vendor name. MCEC associates were unable to search for a certain document by another criterion. With the document management system’s flexible indexing options, MCEC employees have the ability to find and quickly retrieve invoices, purchase orders, checks and other documents using multiple search queries, without leaving their desks.
The time savings are particularly noticeable during busy budget periods. Managers used to go to the accounting department, locate the correct file cabinet and then sift through a large file to find the correct invoice. With a manual system, it could take up to 30 minutes to locate the right document, but now the invoice is instantly available on the manager’s desktop.
Collaboration has also improved at MCEC with concurrent document access to multiple authorized users. Instead of sharing a single imaging workstation or retrieving paperwork from file cabinets, employees across the MCEC network immediately retrieve pertinent documents regardless of their location. The entire accounting department can view a document simultaneously, another big time saver.
Document management is one of the initiatives that helps MCEC remain a leader in the region. Now, after seeing that solution’s benefits, MCEC administrators have decided to broaden the scope of their document management project. As MCEC can devote resources to planning expansion, it will continue to roll out document management to streamline processes across the enterprise, extending the solution to the human resources and administration departments and putting it to work to manage engineering documents as well. As the solution develops and more opportunities arise at MCEC, more features, such as workflow, will be implemented to realize an even greater return on investment.
Mark Thompson, senior business development manager at Perceptive Software for the energy and utility marketplace, focuses on strategic customer solutions related to document management. During his tenure in the energy and utility sector, Thompson has dealt extensively with key utility operations issues, including document management, regulatory compliance (Sarbanes-Oxley), auditing cycles and customer service operations. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.