NEES Enhances Customer Service with New Archiving, Viewing System
Inquire R.S. 120
Changes in utility regulations are rapidly spreading throughout New England. Part of Massachusetts` Open Access legislation requires more definition of charges on consumer bills, meaning that already taxed customer service representatives (CSRs) will most likely be receiving even more calls. New England Electric Services (NEES) is not only preparing for these sweeping changes, but planning to improve customer service at the same time.
Adesso, an archive software provider specializing in customer care and Internet commerce, is part of this large effort. The Adesso/ NEES project will archive and manage billing and related data and will provide exact view capability of this data to the call center.
The system in total will support 250 CSRs, 200 in Massachusetts and 50 in Rhode Island. The data center is located in Northboro, Mass., and has high-speed access within the Northboro campus to Rhode Island. Eventually, all four NEES subsidiaries will use these support call centers. This new operation is expected to save more than $100,000 annually in microfilming costs alone and the return on investment is estimated at 18 months. However, overall customer satisfaction is really what the new archive system is about.
The primary enhancements for the new system were generated by the following requirements:
1. Exact View. CSRs who were interviewed unanimously requested an exact view of the bill with logos, vertical lines and exact format. They want to see the fields the way the customer views them. Currently, on billing calls, the CSR has to guess what is in front of the customer. This leads to a large margin of error, especially now that Open Access legislation has caused NEES` bills to change dramatically.
2. On-line Archive. According to NEES, 92 percent of billing requests could benefit from exact view and on-line archive capability. Current bill data is viewed through 3270 emulation and is missing graphics, key messages and form templates. Retrieving the bill takes as long as eight to 10 seconds.
3. Bill Recreation. One of the most time-consuming actions resulting from customer queries is duplicate bill requests. If the bills are not in the 35-day NEES billing cycle, they must be recreated. Manual recreation is expensive and is associated with an unquantifiable error rate. The new system eliminates the duplicate creation system entirely by allowing original reprints of the bill from the archive.
4. Customer Research. After 60 days bills are transferred to a microfiche library containing three years of data. Approximately 50 requests for microfiche are made each day with each request taking 10 to 15 minutes to fulfill. This cannot be handled in real-time. Currently, a single researcher will take several days to get back to a customer. Today the microfiche requests take more than 1.6 person years annually.
Adding exact view and archive functionality to every desktop will be a paradigm shift from the proprietary mainframe environment still dominant at NEES. The customer care solution at NEES consists of a mainframe-based, in-house developed billing and statement processing application. Initial plans were to upgrade the legacy system, however, the patches to the existing bill viewing system proved too costly.
An important requirement of NEES was a strong set of application program interfaces (APIs) and expertise to integrate with the existing customer care applications. Adesso`s bill view and archive solution will be integrated through published APIs to the customer care umbrella application. The product is properly integrated into call center applications, so that response time and usability are maximized. This is done through an extensive set of APIs geared to the call center and able to work with minimal effort from the primary customer care application. At NEES, this will be accomplished by leveraging the index information from the NEES Power Builder-based customer care application. An SQL query to the Adesso Oracle-based system will bring up the bill, guaranteeing fast response time and requiring less training than many comparable systems.
The NEES initial requirement is to retain 170 Gigabytes of data, which is ingesting approximately 1.7 million bills per month. This is only the beginning. Mike Berardi, NEES` project manager, believes the future for the NEES call center will involve a high degree of customer self-service. Once all the CSRs have access, NEES will allow consumers to view bills from the archive with the Adesso Web producer. The Adesso Internet offering is a three-tier architecture that uses the Adobe Reader plug-in as the browser (client), coupled with an HTTP server, CGI scripts and Web demons at the Web server (middle tier). It hosts the database server on Oracle. The robustness of the Adesso Web architecture along with providing exact view (not just HTML pumped through a browser) was a major factor in NEES` selection of Adesso Software. Management is convinced this technology will migrate efficiently to additional applications such as scanning of invoices, correspondence, operations reports and e-mail documents. n