New voice response system helps Idaho Power customers get answers quickly

SAN RAMON, Calif., Jan. 28, 2002 — Even when circumstances worked against them, the customer service team at Idaho Power found a way to enhance and hasten customer service while reducing costs.

In the midst of a drought year, this hydroelectric power utility has faced rising power costs, potential rotational outages, and resulting increased demand on call center representatives.

“We needed to be ready for the worst case scenario,” said Angie Sperry, technical support analyst at Idaho Power. “Part of that meant automating as many customer calls as possible.”

Doing so required examining their interactive voice response (IVR), the mechanized self-service system that greets toll-free callers.

The utility tackled its IVR analysis and redesign with a team of customer service representatives, managers and a consultant, Enterprise Integration Group, to make the changes. The results — from cost savings to customer satisfaction — have been dramatic.

“We made the voice response system design more user-friendly,” said Jim Osberg, vice president of sales and marketing at Enterprise Integration Group, the professional services firm specializing in IVR human factors design. “Use of self-service has increased over 400%, which represents a huge savings for the company.”

Installed in September, the new system offers automated information 24 hours a day, the ability to complete most common transactions without an attendant and the capability of arranging a payment plan within the IVR.

The power utility, which provides electricity to 400,000 customers in a 320,000 square mile service territory, had also sought to enhance the quality of each customer phone contact.

Sperry, who headed the IVR project at Idaho Power, reports that many callers are now taking advantage of the redesigned voice response system during evening hours and relying on it to make payment arrangements.

The changes have been “amazingly positive” for both customers and call center staff, Sperry said. “As an example, customers previously had no way to check on their account at night. Now, we notice lots of after-hours activity. In the first month alone, there were 1700 after-hours calls.”

Among the most frequent transactions are checking the balance due, last payment made and next bill date.

Sperry said there have been no rolling blackouts this season and energy use has dropped nearly 20%. While the initial emergency phase seems to have passed, “one never can tell what the future will bring and now we have a plan.”

To other firms dealing with IVR improvement issues, Sperry recommends they look at what is right in their current application, as well as what’s wrong and, when necessary, bring in expert help.

Idaho Power Company, based in Boise, is a regulated utility providing electric service to 400,000 customers in southern Idaho, eastern Oregon and Northern Nevada.

Enterprise Integration Group is the independent professional services firm specializing in interactive voice response (IVR) human factors design for both touchtone and speech recognition. EIG can be reached at 888-EIG-4-IVR or via e-mail at ivr@eiginc.com. The website is www.eiginc.com.


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