Cilco Taps Ameritech for Improved Service to Its Customers

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DENVER, CO.-- Central Illinois Light Co. taps Ameritech's deregulation savvy and technology expertise to better service customers and prepare for its own foray into the teleservices outsourcing market.

Cilco, which provides electric service to a 3,700-square-mile territory and natural gas service to a 4,500-square-mile territory in Illinois, has already seen its calls from consumers increase with 50,000 calls per month received into its center, a 20,000 increase from initial estimates this year. All calls are answered in 25 seconds or less with a less than 5 percent abandon rate, said the company.

"With deregulation around the corner, we are retaining and acquiring new customers with our exemplary customer service," said Sue Stratton, director of customer contact for Cilco.

The company signed on with Ameritech last year to consolidate its 13 disparate centers and create a call center operation that would prepare the company for approaching competition. Ameritech was able to offer the company its deregulation know-how as well as a complete portfolio of professional call center products and services from different vendors to create an efficient and effective teleservices operation. Ameritech, Chicago, offers a full range of communication services to customers worldwide including local and long-distance telephone, cellular, paging, security, cable TV and Internet.

"We looked to Ameritech for guidance in aligning people, processes and technology," said Mike Ratcliff, customer service business unit leader for Cilco. "We were missing a key element; the technology to support talented staff. The utilities industry is notorious for its outdated technology because it has never had to focus on these tools to achieve a competitive advantage; but at Cilco, we want to be aggressive and drive the industry."

Ameritech, he said, having experienced and learned from the deregulation of its own marketplace, was uniquely positioned to advise the company.

"They bring technology to me that best suits my needs," Stratton said. "They have people that are out there looking for what is best."

"There is no longer any reason for customers to look beyond Ameritech for all their call center needs," said Ray Banas, vice president, Ameritech Call Center Solutions. "We offer a turnkey solution that enables customers to create a call center for the new millenium."

With the leveraging of Ameritech's experience to implement a Rockwell Spectrum automatic call distributor last year, customers are now able to call a single toll-free number for services. Skill-based routing directs calls to the agent specifically trained to address questions about billing, service charges, emergency situations or other needs. Service agents see customers' histories on their computer screens as calls come into the center.

The call center uses Rockwell's PC-based configurable phone console software, Convergence, to eliminate the physical telephone handset and equip agents with time-saving prerecorded greetings and announcements.

Service agents have increased the time they spend on the phone dramatically, up from 25 percent of the day to 75 percent said the company. Service has been extended round-the-clock.

"Customer service is going to be our differentiator, and we need talented, motivated service agents to help us achieve this," said Stratton. "Our state-of-the-art call center is instrumental here. Not only are agents equipped with the latest in call processing technology to help them do their jobs well, they perform those jobs in an environment that fosters a healthy attitude."

Agents go through an initial six week training period followed by several more weeks of refresher courses scheduled throughout the year.

The company is further investing in Ameritech's just released quality assurance program, which uses Comverse to integrate multimedia digital recording and quality monitoring systems. "It will allow Cilco to do a better job of monitoring with automation providing better reports for supervisors," Stratton said.

Though Cilco would offer no specific dates, saying its plans could change, the company expects to enter the teleservices outsourcing market to other utilities within a year.

"We have services experience, expertise, a state-of-the-art call center: everything we need to offer outsourcing capabilities," Stratton said. "It makes sense to offer our services."

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