Powering customer satisfaction through quality assurance

By Roger Woolley, etalk

Jan. 9, 2004 — Understanding the importance of managing customer relationships is vital to an organization’s success. And in the energy industry where competition is fierce, a forward-thinking customer care program can mean the difference between success and failure.

According to Yankee Group, 66 percent of customers defect due to poor customer care, and according to the Harvard Business Review, cutting defections in half will more than double a company’s growth rate.

Many energy companies such as The Salt River Project Agricultural Improvement and Power District (SRP) know the importance of having a well-oiled customer service program. SRP is comprised of two separate companies: the Salt River Project Agricultural Improvement and Power District, and the Salt River Valley Water User’s Association, a private corporation.

The District provides electricity to nearly 800,000 retail customers in the Phoenix area. It operates or participates in seven major power plants and numerous other generating stations, including thermal, nuclear and hydroelectric sources. The Association delivers nearly one million acre-feet of water annually to agricultural, urban and municipal water users in the Phoenix area.

Like many energy companies, SRP has adopted a centralized approach to customer service by using its call centers to serve on the front line to customer inquiries. In essence, they are putting their greatest assets – their customers – in the hands of call center agents who are serving on the front lines of customer service calls.

Several years ago, SRP decided to undergo a customer satisfaction survey to evaluate the success of its call center agents’ performance by measuring their courtesy levels with customers. To its surprise, SRP scored a 57 out of a possible 100 percent. SRP knew it needed to make some changes in its call center to improve these scores.

In reviewing its call center operations, SRP first realized it did not have enough contact center agents to meet the sheer volume of calls and high demands of its customers. Its understaffed contact center meant that agents often could not keep up with the volume of calls in queue, thereby reducing their morale and geniality.

While SRP began to increase the number of agents in its contact center, it knew simply hiring more agents was not going to be enough to catapult its customer satisfaction rating to its goal of 100 out of 100%. The company needed to implement a quality assurance program that could automate and solve many of its customer service issues.

Adopting a sound quality assurance program with the right tools can help companies boost their customer service levels, achieve greater efficiencies and realize tangible savings to their bottom lines. For energy companies, this can give them the edge they need to compete in a tough economic climate.

Basic components of building a quality assurance program

Implementing a successful quality assurance program starts with the most fundamental need — call recording. Veterans such as etalk, a global leader of Performance Impact solutions for enterprise contact centers, know that finding a reliable call monitoring and recording tool is vital to a quality assurance program’s success.

Today’s managers are being asked to do more with less time and resources, and by incorporating automated call monitoring and recording software, contact center managers can utilize on demand recording of conversations and computer desktop activities without having to manually coordinate work schedules.

SRP installed etalk Recorder® and found that from the convenience of their own desk, managers could automatically schedule calls, dial in through their own phone extension and listen to agents interact with customers. And by using this advanced recording software, digital recordings of conversations meant its managers received the highest quality recordings possible so it could avoid the use archaic equipment such as old hand-held tape recorders.

The next vital component of a quality assurance program is finding a sophisticated analytical tool that can help contact center managers pinpoint areas of concern and become more responsive to customer needs. Analytical software allows managers to listen to calls and evenly score agents according to a set criterion. This feature allows managers to more evenly score agent performance and provides useful data that can help them more effectively train agents to successfully put out fires and react to highly sensitive customer issues. This on-the-spot management translates into happier, more satisfied customers.

SRP chose etalk Advisorà¢â€ž- to help its managers easily analyze recorded calls with a level of consistency, and empowered them with critical information needed to deliver highly valuable feedback to agents for training purposes. In addition, information gleaned from the analytical tool helped boost employee morale by recognizing agents that displayed outstanding performance.

Of course no quality assurance program would be complete without a tool to help energy companies screen and hire the best applicants as skilled customer service agents. Job applicant screening software helps maximize the efficiency and effectiveness of hiring methods. These efficiencies are realized in agents who require less training and coaching time.

To measure the quality of each applicant’s performance, SRP utilized etalk JASSà¢â€ž- to create a customized and calibrated approach which reflected the standards to which SRP held its employees. By using JASS, SRP has been able to identify and hire more qualified agents.

Measuring success

One of the best ways of tracking ROI is to deploy periodic customer satisfaction surveys to a customer base. This gives companies the ability to create benchmarks for measuring how well the quality assurance program is working and gauge improvements year over year. These can be done internally and at relatively low cost.

After implementing its quality assurance program, SRP deployed additional customer satisfaction surveys and found its new quality assurance program had produced staggering results. Scores that were once in the 57 percentile jumped to near perfect scores of 99 to 100 percent.

In addition, SRP entered a number of industry customer satisfaction studies. Since it implemented its quality assurance program, SRP ranked number one in customer service among utilities in the nation by J.D. Power and Associates in 2003 by scoring a perfect 120 out of 120 points possible.

Also for the fourth time in five years, SRP ranked highest in customer satisfaction for residential electric service among electricity providers in the Western United States, according to J.D. Power and Associates 2003 Electric Utility Residential Customer Satisfaction StudySM. SRP is the only electric utility to be ranked among the nation’s top 10 utilities by J.D. Power and Associates for all five years that the survey has been conducted.

Lastly, it is important to gauge ROI through process efficiencies, which directly impact the bottom line. By automating several processes such as call monitoring and recording, companies can save valuable time and money through reduced headcount and by allowing its staff to focus on the most important activities.

Woolley is the vice president of marketing for Irving, Texas-based etalk, a global leader in the development and deployment of performance management solutions for call centers. For more information, contact etalk through the Web at www.etalk.com or by calling 800-835-6357.

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