Northeast Utilities (NU), based in Berlin, Conn., has grown to become the largest utility service provider in New England and one of the 25 largest in the United States. In 1994, NU’s marketing department decided to become proactive about establishing better relationships with the company’s customers. “Northeast Utilities System is an integral part of the communities that it serves in Connecticut, New Hampshire and western Massachusetts,” said John DiGirolamo, NU’s team leader for business information. “More than 1.7 million customers rely on us in the heat and humidity of summer and the extreme cold of a traditional New England winter. We want to do the best job we can, and that means uncompromising, proactive customer service.”
Powerful Customer Service
When NU looked to technology to enhance its customer service practices and maintain its competitive edge, the utility found its solution with Saratoga Systems’ Avenue customer relationship management (CRM) software. The Avenue software solution has helped NU enhance customer service by improving internal and external communication, saving time spent on organization and paperwork, and providing new ways to help account executives manage their clients’ energy resources. Avenue enables users to manage their time more efficiently. Systems administrators are better able to manage the centralized data systems and to provide NU’s 160 customer support personnel with fast, organized, up-to-date information. With Avenue, support technicians can quickly review the most recent notes on a particular client and make better informed, more productive customer calls.
A key to NU’s customer service is to continually create procedures that allow the company to be proactive so account executives can advise customers long before they run into difficulties, says DiGirolamo. One such procedure has been to utilize the Avenue system to maintain records on how much power each account is using and which transformer is servicing which account. When a transformer is approaching a load limit, the Avenue system’s Active Information Manager (AIM) report will automatically trigger an alarm on the account executive’s laptop computer.
“If customers demand more power than their transformer can handle, there is a rare danger that the transformer will literally burn up, causing a fire hazard as well as a power outage,” said Roger Plourde, a Waterbury, Conn.-based NU account executive serving industrial customers. “Before Avenue, it would have been nearly impossible for account executives to constantly monitor each customer’s power usage and add up the load on each transformer. We worked closely with our systems administrators to enable Avenue to signal us when our customers show a drastic increase in demand; then, we can take our concerns to our technical teams to proactively address the problem.”
Avenue’s AIM feature also helps NU account executives save customers money and conserve resources. Using historical data on billing and energy usage as parameters, AIM automatically alerts account executives when their customers are approaching rate limits. Account executives can review the circumstances and proactively advise the customer of volume discounts available for the increased energy usage, or they can conduct an on-site evaluation to recommend ways the customer can conserve resources.
New England is noted for its winter storms, but on April 1, 1997, a storm in NU’s northwest region sparked power outages that left schools in the dark. Parents, community officials and technicians needed to know how long the situation would last. The Avenue system helped account executive Robert Axelrod identify which of his customers were affected by the storm and enabled him to make necessary calls quickly and efficiently.
NU also uses Avenue to proactively contact customers who will be affected significantly by power shortages that occur during seasonal increases in power demand. The Saratoga system stores data regarding each customer’s circuit number and sequence, enabling account executives to know which of their customers will be affected. Rather than keep customers in the dark, NU generates a list of key customers, such as hospitals, schools and manufacturers, and faxes them an energy conservation advisory and weekly “forecast” to keep them informed.
The Final Say
NU’s account executives have succeeded in using Avenue to manage their time and their clients’ energy usage more efficiently. Each remote account executive links to the Avenue centralized database via a Novell-based wide area network that spans 18 local field offices. The account executives also have the ability to dial into the central data repository directly via modem. Changes and additions to customer records and histories then can be uploaded and downloaded from the account executives’ laptops across the region. Nightly synchronization keeps everyone in the organization apprised of daily account status.
To date, NU has been challenging itself to do more for its customers. As a result, the company has developed several new, innovative applications for its Avenue CRM technology. These applications save the company and its customers time and money, while preparing NU for a changing marketplace. “Competition is the driving force of our industry today,” said DiGirolamo. “Saratoga’s software helps us develop tools and customer service processes that keep us on the cutting edge regardless of the ‘re-regulation’ taking place in the utilities industry.”