Metropolitan Utilities District Mark Doyle on improving utilities customer service

At the recent SAP for Utilities event in Huntington Beach the Metropolitan Utilities District (MUD), a gas and water utility in Omaham Nebraska won a prize for the best mid-size utility in terms of SAP implementations. I caught up with MUD CIO Mark Doyle after the prize giving ceremony and asked him to tell me a little about how his project improved his customer’s service.

See below for a transcript of our conversation:

Tom Raftery: Hey everyone! Welcome to GreenMonk TV, we’re at the SAP for Utilities event in Huntington Beach and I’m here with —

Mark Doyle: Mark Doyle.

Tom Raftery: And Mark you are?

Mark Doyle: I am the Chief Information Officer at the Metropolitan Utilities District in Omaha, Nebraska.

Tom Raftery: Okay, and what do the Metropolitan Utilities District do?

Mark Doyle: We’re a public utility in the Mid-West and we serve about 225,000 households in around the Omaha area. We provide natural gas and safe, reliable, economical, drinking water.

Tom Raftery: Very good.

Mark Doyle: I always have to put that in there.

Tom Raftery: Excellent. So you received a prize yesterday. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

Mark Doyle: Yeah, we were recognized for the best mid-size utility in terms of SAP implementations. We are very honored to receive that recognition and appreciate being here and networking with that tag on our back, it’s been a very nice thing to have here in this large group of utilities.

Tom Raftery: And what was the prize for?

Mark Doyle: We recently upgraded our SAP systems to be fully integrated with the full ERP, CRM, CRB suite of products. There was a multi-year project that culminated and went live on June 3rd of this year.

Tom Raftery: Okay and how will that benefit your organization and your customers?

Mark Doyle: Well in Omaha, Nebraska the public utilities might not be viewed as state-of-the-art but we want to dispel that myth. We are now in a position with these tools to be as good as anyone in terms of customer service and effective delivery of these public services which are so essential to the lives of the folks living in our area.

Tom Raftery: And what kind of things will it help your customers do?

Mark Doyle: Well, number one a mobile work force that’s real time enabled to the back office can effectively serve our customers, make it a safer environment; we have locators, make it a more genuine environment, we have collectors out unfortunately shutting people off, so we think we can more genuinely serve our customer base, that’s on the mobility side.

Our customer service center will be moving toward all of the things that any customer service center does. I’ll use Amazon as an example. We should be able to be as good as any customer service center. Everybody wants things quickly, effectively and accurately and even more than that, they want things in many different ways.

So we think it’s all about serving our customers and running as effectively and as effectively as possible.

Tom Raftery: And are you interacting with customers now using social media?

Mark Doyle: Yes, we are. We have a website that rolled out right along with our implementation in June, a new website, we now have a Facebook presence and a Twitter presence and that’s been a very good experience for us and for our customers that choose to use that channel.

Tom Raftery: Super. Mark thanks a million for talking to us.

Mark Doyle: Thank you, very much.

Metropolitan Utilities District Mark Doyle on improving utilities customer service

Using the contact centre to avoid bad profits

The majority of utility companies are still in the habit of relentlessly pursuing bad profits and in such doing themselves more harm than good. Let me start with explaining what we mean with bad profits? Simply put it, bad profits arise when utility companies puts the bottom-line before its customers.
A typical example of a utility process that results in bad profits is the chasing of open bills by sending customers multiple over-due notices increasingly focussing on penalty charges and disconnection warnings. Of course a certain percentage of customers will pay the outstanding bill after receiving these threatening letters, however what are the hidden cost of such actions? If a customer feels they are not treated fairly or compassionately they will remember this, and in the future when the opportunity arises they will jump ship and you could be losing a good customer for ever.

If a customer does not pay their utility bill would it not be better to try to find out the reason why and if the circumstances warrant to mediate an outcome that benefits both parties instead of resorting to a one directional, generic, and cascading threatening communication. Chasing bad profits is short sighted and in most cases totally unnecessary in today’s time and age. Customers will eventually turn their back on companies who have a culture of aggressively chasing outstanding debts. In a time where customers have a choice and where churn rates are deteriorating to the point where utility retailers may lose half of its new customers in less than three years, chasing bad profits might not be a good business practice.

So how can technology help eliminate bad profits or even better turn bad profits into good profits. With today’s technologies such as “big data” and ‘analytics” the information is available to utility companies to differentiate between “notorious” bad payers and customers who struggle to keep up with their utility payments due to circumstance outside their control. I am sure most of us have in one point in time experienced reduced cash flow due to reasons mostly outside our control, it could be that you are between jobs and the next pay check does not arrive for another month, or it is the start of the school year and your kids school fees are due, maybe your car broke down and costly repairs are needed, or it could be an unexpected high dentist bill. Once a utility company recognizes that even a customer is willing they sometimes are not able to pay their bills on time, the utility company can use their contact centre to reach out to these customers and add the human touch to the whole transaction of chasing overdue bills.

In a time where more and more of our interactions seems to be through social media and electronic gadgets, speaking to a person who understands someone’s situation, shows compassion and can guide a customer with an overdue bill towards a long term payment plan, implement a delayed payment programs or direct debit can do wonders. So think before you send out the 3rd or 4th “overdue bill notice” –let alone disconnection warnings, and see if a more “human” touch would not result in better results.

How do you see utility companies using communication to provide a more human touch to interactions?

Using the contact centre to avoid bad profits