Energizing Customers With World-Class Service

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Providing outstanding service to utility customers is critical in today's competitive energy marketplace. So what are you doing to make sure your customers are satisfied? And, what are you doing to retain them?


Existing energy customers are your most valuable resource, and just as much effort should go into servicing them after they contract your service as went into wooing them. After all, it costs six times more to attract a new customer as it does to retain an old one.


The job of nurturing loyal utility customers begins with the first contact you have with them. Every subsequent interaction builds on that initial communication.


Customer-care programs using toll-free numbers, mail and the Internet provide utility companies with the vehicles to communicate with customers on an ongoing basis. In addition to providing a mechanism for opening and closing accounts, starting and ending service, resolving billing disputes and other account management issues, these vehicles allow customers to learn more about the utility, its products and policies. Representatives can help customers obtain information, answer questions and provide a forum for their comments and concerns to be heard and understood within the company.


If a customer is satisfied with the way questions are answered or problems are resolved, he or she will most likely continue purchasing the service. According to one study, 80 percent of customers who call with a complaint will purchase from that company again if their complaints are handled properly.


Utilities have been fairly successful in resolving customer issues during the first call. However, with the ever-changing complexity of today's energy marketplace, this is becoming increasingly challenging.


While customer-care representatives strive to satisfy users and deliver quality service, they have the perfect opportunity to become critical participants in a utility company's sales and marketing effort. In addition to helping retain customers - and increase their buying power - representatives can also gain key information and build databases valuable for marketing use. Reps who have meaningful discussions with customers are in the perfect position to collect critical information about each customer.


Usually, when a representative is successful in resolving an issue, that customer is willing to relinquish personal information such as service preferences, buying patterns and usage. When compiled into a database, this information provides key data for future marketing endeavors including upselling, cross-selling and the bundling of services.


Customers can also be very helpful in suggesting service improvements. If many call with similar questions about a particular issue, say a billing code that is difficult to interpret, the representative can provide the appropriate in-house department with valuable input for improving the code.


Suggestions such as this can have long-term benefits. If the code is more self-explanatory, the number of calls into the customer-care department will be reduced and customers will be more satisfied.


Telephone interactions are quickly being supplemented by other means of communicating with consumers. The world of customer care now integrates interactive voice response with a live operator. A caller who needs a quick response to a routine question can simply self serve by using the telephone keypad, while one who requires more assistance can speak to a telephone representative. Web sites present self-serve opportunities in which customers can click on an icon and retrieve the information they need or send an e-mail to converse electronically with a representative.


Increasingly complex technology is required for all of these applications. Combined with the highly intricate nature of serving customers, the need for post-sales marketing and databases, more utility companies recognize the benefit of outsourcing customer service to third-party providers. Utilities realize service bureau teleservice professionals add value and expertise while freeing company executives to focus on their primary business functions and core competencies.


In this changing world of customer care, outsourcing presents a viable opportunity to enhance a utility company's bottom line.


A study published by DGY Associates links financial performance to outsourcing. The results "were startling in the uniformity of financial performance between companies who have decided to outsource (customer care) vs. those who have decided not to outsource," the study concluded. "Companies who fully outsource had the most favorable results. This is reflected in a greater 10-year average return to investors, a higher average 10-year annual growth rate and a larger average percentage change in annual earnings per share .... As demonstrated through this study's findings, companies who outsource call center functions, either partially or fully, outperform those who do not."


As more utilities realize the positive impact of customer care programs, they are bound to retain more satisfied customers, and in turn, increase their bottom lines.
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