Utilities Are Better Able to Weather Outages, Deregulation Through Outsourcing

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Call centers today know that providing excellent customer service is the key to building loyalty and retaining customers. As a result, managers have studied call patterns, analyzed volumes and fine-tuned their operations to offer customer service excellence based on normal activity patterns.


But, what happens when activity is no longer normal? An unexpected storm can interrupt service and create an avalanche of calls. In addition to unexpected occurrences, anticipated issues, such as deregulation, can increase call volume. Will the calls become a downpour or simply a trickle? How do you balance these issues and still handle normal daily business activity?


Rather than spend money to increase staff and facilities, many conscientious call center managers realize outsourcing is an economic solution. Outsourcing traditional in-house customer service functions is a valuable tool used in large and small utilities.


A Win-Win Situation


When it comes to storm-related problems, outsourcing using automated technology can sweep calls away from the call center, capture the information, and send back almost real-time reports that pinpoint outage locations. Because these calls are of a high volume/short duration nature, using an outsource operation as a standby resource is a logical solution. The customer call is answered, the utility receives outage location information and, most important of all, the call center continues to manage the business that otherwise would have been lost during the crisis.


For situations such as deregulation, outsourcing to have a live operator capture the call may be best. With specialized training and experienced supervision, these mini-call centers mirror the utility's call center without the slightest disruption to normal activity. Plus, staffing and logistics are never issues. The outsource provider makes all the arrangements for staffing, handles the training (with direct involvement and approval of the utility) and manages the load. The call center manager supplies projections for call volume and patterns. The mirror-image call center handles it all and the customer, again, has a more than satisfactory experience.


Look for Knowledge of Your Industry


Experience is the key when deciding which outsource provider to use. The experienced provider will have in-depth knowledge of your industry, not just its own. This is important because you do not have the time or the resources to teach a vendor about your business. If you have a provider that is experienced in your industry, you eliminate as much as 50 percent of the typical learning curve for startups of this type.


Another important qualification is the provider's ability to react quickly to your ever-changing needs. Long, drawn out startups will have a negative impact on your business. Providers that offer quick response and look at a fast turnaround as a challenge and opportunity rather than a problem have the right mentality for this business. Of course, a word of caution is appropriate when dealing with live operator services. Give your outsource provider adequate time to train the personnel. But, if your are working with a provider who has experience in this area, half the battle is won at the start.


From an automated standpoint, capacity and support are key. What assurance do you have that the service provider can handle the number of calls that will come flooding in? Can they support your needs during a long outage? In addition, will they provide an effective interface with your personnel and, most importantly, your data systems?


If your outsource service provider has experience in your industry, it is a safe bet that provider will meet your needs. Ask for case studies and listen to examples of how the provider has met the needs of other utilities. Ask for references. Your best source of information concerning reliability is the network of colleagues in your industry. Trust them to tell you who to call to meet your needs.


Outsourcing can be nerve-racking, but it only enhances your situation. It is not meant to take the place of the personal, friendly and conscientious service your employees currently perform. Outsourcing simply takes away the easily handled calls leaving your staff to handle the calls that are important for your on-going business opportunities.

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