Outsourcing picks up the slack

By Dana Bacciocco, Associate Editor

Both deregulation and re-regulation are driving utilities to consider outsourcing some level of customer contact. With the push to increase revenue and lower costs, utilities facing either scenario are partnering with outsourced call centers that offer flexibility, relief for inflated call volumes, and a marketing avenue for value adds for consumers.

While some utilities’ existing call centers were built in anticipation of deregulation, many were not, and systems have advanced considerably since the ’90s. “In a competitive market with rate increases closely monitored, utilities can find outsourcing a viable alternative to further internal investment, when their base call center can handle 80 percent of call volume,” said John Cargal, CEO of Encompass TeleServices, serving two utilities owned by Scottish Power. The cost of new technology is spread among several clients, which helps in implementing Web-based and e-mail contact, as well as emerging technologies like SMS messaging-short message service for mobile phones, similar to paging.

Utilities that did not anticipate a marketing infrastructure need during early call center development can outsource sales for product offerings, especially as demand side management heats up. For example, Encompass, as an outsourcing partner, captures customer information for utilities, who then run demand side calculations and present them to their PUC for credit toward their demand side management program. Sales of compact fluorescent light bulbs and carbon monoxide detectors have provided participating utilities about a 40 percent return on investment, according to Cargal.

With PUCs closely eyeing rate increases and utilities use of funds, outsourcing helps avoid the gray areas of a call center budget. Dollars are clearly associated with CRM or with sales initiatives. “Utilities are using outsources because it’s cut-and-dry where nonregulated funds are going-no line crossing whatsoever,” said Cargal.

For more information contact Encompass TeleServices at 888-290-2020 or via e-mail to info@encompass-ts.com.

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