This special interest group is where customer care professionals share tactics on how utilities are improving interactions with their customers. 

Question

We are looking for some insight on how companies are addressing the pull between employees working from home vs optimized teamwork/productivity vs a positive customer experience.

Private

This question was submitted by a community member who wanted to stay anonymous

  • Jun 8, 2021
  • 441 views

Although many employees would like to stay at home, there has been some successes and some challenges regarding aligned communication and consistency of a positive customer experience. Some customers are sharing there has been no change in service while others are frustrated by delays in phones being answered, incorrect information being shared and poor follow through. In conversing with customers, they are far less likely to complete surveys due to cyber security concerns of clinking on links.  They also are frustrated by anything more than 5 -8 questions. What are you seeing with regard to the shift of customer care with regard to its impact on the customer experience?

Your access to Member Features is limited.

Very pertinent question which would perhaps be in force during post pandemic phase. There are two angles to it - Corporate and Employee. Taking the Corporate angle, they would be happy because they are benefited with zero infrastructure with basic facilities perhaps throughout the day. They are happy that the jobs are completed in fact, sooner than before. Employee is happy to work from home because he has realized during the pandemic the importance of family and quality time with them. More importantly, he avoid treacherous drive to office and back. He could now claim that HE is also contributing his might towards carbon neutrality world over.
Customers are also satisfied that their job is done through a video conference (when more details are required). Word of mouth, corporates can gain more customers, as well.

Our experience has been that as part of the hybrid work from home and office balance is the expectation that employees respond to customers and inquiries better than in if in the office full time. If explained to employees this is the new contract for working at home and we provide the appropriate communication, we’ve seen higher productivity and more job ownership from the incumbent employee responsible for customer satisfaction. The only score that’s important in customer satisfaction is how many times are customers coming back and if it is for the right reasons.

Great question and a massive operational hurdle that frankly most companies struggled to overcome during the COVID shift to work from home.  The pandemic certainly tested the IT and Culture resources of most companies in trying to shift on-premise operations to a distributed workforce model. 

In our estimation, utilities overall did a pretty good job of shifting to Work at Home without too many delays or consequences for the customer experience.  Aside from the hiccups related to network issues, VPN permissions, and telephony/video adjustments, utilities adapted pretty quickly for most of their operations.

Initial data from Spring/Summer 2020 suggested no impact or slight positive enhancements to productivity as people adjusted to W@H and could give themselves a few hours a week not lost in commuting to the office.  I think most businesses would tell you that those productivity improvements were relatively fleeting as the newness of the situation wore off, or due to a loss of the type of regular oversight and interactions of a typical office environment.  

Most industries indicate a return to the office will happen in 2H21, with particular concentration of a full return for companies that depend on high levels of collaboration in their operations - financial services, creative services and design, customer care, healthcare, etc.  But, we can be certain that most companies will experiment with continued remote work and hybrid systems.

To truly be set up for success, I'll channel my former life in cyber security.  Having secure data, voice and video communications will be essential, and it's always a challenge.  CIO and CISO roles at Utilities have already been forefront because of security concerns related to energy operations, and now data and voice/video security will be paramount in W@H programs.  

VPNs are a must, but need to be seamless and not taxing on home bandwidth.  The business world adjusted in 2020 to running on residential internet service, and many companies struggled due to irregular or limited bandwidth.  Easy to use, seamless and secure VPNs for remote workstations on home wifi have to be bullet proof.

Not all telephony and video conferencing services are created equal, and companies that will lean into hybrid or remote work solutions need to do an assessment on their telephony provider.  That voice connection to customers remains essential, especially as the importance of their issues escalate, and no one wants to wait long on hold or have a poor voice connection with customer care.

I appreciate the concern with customer surveys and can't stress enough the need to poll customers for their feedback.  A 5-8 question survey, properly done, can yield a lot of great insights, but not to measure the integrity of customer care encounter.  Utilities can get a lot of value from a brief "5-star" survey following every call, delivered by text or email, to capture customer feedback about their interaction.  "You just spoke to Mark about an issue.  How would you rate that call?" tells utilities a LOT about their customer communication programs.  A brief "5-star" survey and an open text box to give customers the opportunity to provide more detail usually works better than longer structured surveys for these milestone interactions.

But, companies need to listen not just to ratings, but to customers' text responses.  Customers will type their feedback about long hold times, tone and demeanor of their customer service representative, quality of the call or irritation with the IVR.  And, customers expect those surveys to be reviewed, or they will begin to ignore the invite.  Customers view those surveys as an informal escalation path for a bad experience.  Failing to spot a 2-star review and reconnect with that customer tells them you don't really value their feedback or concerns.  If you do VoC well, a closed loop response to surveys shows customers you listen AND respond to their issues.

Doing Work@Home well for Utilities does require expertise and a plan, but it's also really about paying attention to the customer experience and listening carefully to their feedback to learn how to prioritize the improvements.  Work@Home looks likely to become a regular part of the business world, and advice about tackling the issues and challenges will fill text books and web pages for a long time.  I hope this feedback was helpful, but please feel free to connect with me if you have any questions.  My company has a lot of W@H experience, and we're always ready to share our best practices.

 

My experience as an independent energy consultant working mostly with large industrial/commercial energy users indicates that there is room for working from home but some selected activities still demand face to face meetings.

I found out that when you address strategic issues then the preferred format is face to face. When it is about how to implement a strategy, then working on a virtual arrangement is super! 

Bottom line: when you talk to the C level, for example, it makes sense to go face to face. If you have to discuss operational matters with lower managers, then remote can be great.

 

Tap Into The Experience of the Network

One of the great things about our industry is our willingness to share knowledge and experience.

The Energy Central Q&A platform allows you to easily tap into the experience of thousands of your colleagues in utilities.

When you need advice, have a tough problem or just need other viewpoints, post a question. Your question will go out to our network of industry professionals and experts. If it is sensitive, you can post anonymously.