What’s your plan to make 2004 a great year for customer service?

By David Saxby, Measure-X

April 2, 2004 — Every utility in the country has created a plan and a budget for how they will utilize their resources to best manage their company in 2004. Many have also crafted a marketing plan to sell additional products and services. Others have strategies in place to strengthen the relationships they have within their communities.

But how many of you have created a plan to improve the experience your customers have when they interact with your staff? I’m not talking about putting money in the budget for customer-service training. I’m asking if you’ve looked at every way your customers interact with your organization and then drafted a written plan with specifics on how to improve the customer experience at every level within your utility.

In some situations, your customers have a choice between you and a competing utility. If your competition is less expensive, would your customers remain loyal even though you aren’t the cheapest provider?

Most people shop for price. However, their actual buying decision is based on the value they receive. Does every customer that walks into your business or calls you on the telephone feel that they’re getting an excellent value for their hard-earned money?

Following are six tips on how to improve your utility’s quality of service and the overall experience your customers have.

Survey. Survey your customers to find out what they think of your utility and the service you provide. Ask them what they like about their experiences with your company. Ask them what they don’t like.

You may find that small changes can have a huge impact on the customer experience. Here’s a great example. A utility was having a problem with children creating a distraction in the front office while their parents paid their bills or signed up for new service. A customer suggested creating a play area for kids. The utility put in a play mat with some toys in the corner of the office. Now children have a place to play and everybody wins.

Ask your customers what you can do to make it easier for them to do business with you. Ask them what additional products or services you could provide. Don’t be complacent and rely on the survey you did five years ago. Customers’ needs continually change.

The customer’s perspective.Contract with a mystery shopping company. These companies hire people to call or visit your business as if they were a new customer and then they provide you with feedback on what their shoppers experienced. Customers who move into your area have a preconceived notion about service levels that’s based on experiences with their previous utility. Every new customer should feel that his or her expectations for service are exceeded.

Standards. Establish standards for how every customer should be treated. Your staff can’t function properly unless they know what you expect.

Does your staff make a good impression? Do they use a friendly manner to welcome the individual, whether on the telephone or in person? Do they introduce themselves to the caller? Do they use the customer’s name during the interaction? At the end of the transaction, do they thank the customer for calling?

Look at the processes you have in place for handling customer complaints, requests for service and payment extensions. Are these processes customer friendly?

Technology. There is an abundance of hardware and software that can improve a utility’s ability to serve its customers. Research the ones that do the best job of enhancing the customer’s experience.

Evaluate your own existing technology capabilities. When your customers call, do they get a human being or a robotic voice on the phone? If you’re using an automated system, choose carefully how many different options you make available for your caller and the amount of time it takes to state those options. Respect your customer’s time.

As you evaluate the technology tools you have established to serve your level of service, ask this question: are they improving the experience for the customer?

Products and services. One of the most common complaints utilities receive from their customers is that their bills are too high. This type of complaint is the perfect opportunity to offer an energy audit, budget billing and energy-saving options.
Invest in skills and product knowledge for your staff so they can go the extra mile to be proactive with your customers and recommend a solution with one of the products or services you offer.

The Internet. More and more customers use the Internet to interact with their utility and they expect immediate replies when they send e-mail inquires. Customer service representatives should respond to inquiries within two hours of receiving a message.

Not everyone is technology savvy, so make certain your web site is simple to use and maneuver. Make it easy for customers to pay their bills and take care of other basic needs.

Create a list of customers’ most frequently asked questions and post it to your Web site along with the answers. This will help reduce the number of customer inquiries.
Develop a list of suggestions on how customers can reduce their bills and post it to your Web site. Use your Web site to promote the products and services you offer to customers to help them trim their power usage.

Every day your company has an opportunity to exceed your customers’ expectations. Do you have a plan for 2004 to make that happen?

Saxby is president of Measure-X, a Phoenix-based measurement, training and recognition company that specializes in customer service and sales skills training for utilities. He can be reached at 888-644-5499 or via e-mail at david@measure-x.com. Visit the Measure-X Web site at www.measure-x.com.

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