Digital and Data Tools for Customer Engagement: Exclusive Interview with Retha Hunsicker and Jassi Arora of Duke Energy and Winners of the Excellence in Customer Service SAP Innovation Award - [an Energy Central Power Perspectives™ Interview]

Posted to Energy Central in the Digital Utility Group
image credit: Retha Hunsicker and Jassi Arora
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Matt Chester 185545
Energy Analyst Chester Energy and Policy

Official Energy Central Community Manager of Generation and Energy Management Networks. Matt is an energy analyst in Orlando FL (by way of Washington DC) working as an independent energy...

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  • Oct 16, 2019

Among the many transformations in the utility industry that are taking hold in recent years, those that impact the customer’s ability to get the most from their energy providers may just be the most powerful. Customers are able to gain new insights that were never before available and utilities can leverage those same insights to ensure a safe, reliable, and affordable grid for their customers across the region.

Duke Energy is one such utility that is moving forward with great enthusiasm and success towards these digital and data tools for customer engagement via their Customer Connect program. This program consolidates its legacy billing systems into a single customer engagement platform to deliver a universal customer experience, which will simultaneously drive operational efficiency and allow new and consistent insights internally. From the customer-facing side, the platform provides them with the easy, personalized experience they’ve come to expect from service providers.

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The work towards this outcome has led Duke Energy to be the recipient of the “Excellence in Customer Service SAP Industry Innovation Award” at the upcoming SAP for Utilities Conference. Not only will Duke be accepting this award, but they’ll have valued employees giving featured talks: Retha Hunsicker, the VP of Customer Connect Solutions, will present on “Duke’s Journey Towards Data-Driven Customer Insights,” and Jassi Arora, VP of Customer Connect Delivery, will share a presentation entitled “Fostering Digital Customer Engagement and Sustainability via Self-Service Platform.”

Ahead of these much-anticipated presentations at the SAP for Utilities Conference, Retha and Jassi were kind enough to share some insights with me for the Energy Central community:

Matt Chester: To start off, thank you so much to the both of you for taking the time to share some of your insights on how data can be leveraged by utilities to better engage their customers. Before we dive into the meat of it, can you each please give some background about who you are, what your role is at Duke Energy, and how you got to this point in your career and in this area of focus?

Retha Hunsicker: I’m originally from Indiana and started at Duke Energy 37 years ago. Prior to my current role, I served as vice president of customer care operations, where I had responsibility for six contact centers, training and quality assurance, workforce and vendor management, and consumer affairs. Prior to that, I was responsible for Duke Energy’s Midwest customer contact operations. 


Jassi Arora: I joined Duke Energy in October 2017 from Arizona Public Service (APS), where I led the successful implementation of large-scale customer information and grid modernization projects. 

Prior to leading the programs at APS, I worked for large consulting organizations, partnering with several utilities to implement programs such as Customer Relationship Management (CRM), Distribution Management System (DMS), Automated Metering Infrastructure (AMI) and Smart Grid Solutions.   I have more than 25 years of experience in the customer service and transmission and distribution areas of the utility industry.

In my current role at Duke Energy, I am accountable for five legacy CIS systems, call center infrastructure & telephony technologies, and the IT digital experience team responsible for Duke Energy’s web portal applications.


RH: And then as co-leads of Customer Connect, we share accountability for the successful delivery of our new, universal customer experience solution comprised of data and analytics, customer engagement, and core meter-to-cash.


MC: Retha, you’re presenting on how Duke utilizes data to gain customer insights, and I thought it interesting that in your presentation you label that “Duke Energy’s Journey” towards data-driven customer insights. What made this process such a journey; were there missteps along the way? Was the topic one that wasn’t easy to get buy-in on early on? What were the challenges that made this a journey?

RH: The journey ties back to our overall vision of transforming the customer experience at Duke Energy, of which Customer Connect plays a large role. We designed the Customer Connect Program to be a phased multi-year program, delivering value to customers and to our employees every year of the program. We kicked off our Customer Connect journey in 2018 by implementing a foundational data and analytics tool called SAP Hana, a tool that is very new to the utilities world.  From there, we have delivered multiple customer engagement solutions to implement new ways to better serve our customers and will round out our program in 2021 and 2022 with delivery of the core meter-to-cash solution in each of our jurisdictions.  The design of this multi-year timeline was strategic to ensure we were delivering value along the way rather than waiting until the end of the five years for our customers and employees to see and feel something different.  Part of our overall solution is known and used by many utilities across the globe, while other parts of it are brand new to the utility world, so we are certainly learning as we go.


MC: To your presentation, Jassi, you’re discussing the way in which data can then be used to foster digital customer engagement. As everything becomes more digital in the utility industry, what do the customers of today demand engagement-wise that you never saw coming 10 years ago? And do you have an educated guess on how that might continue to evolve in the future as those trends continue?

JA: Customers compare their utility experience to other companies and service providers they engage with, companies like Amazon and Uber. Their expectations are more fluid than they have ever been and as other service providers continue to raise the bar, quite simply we need to keep up.  Customers demand real-time information through the channel of their choice, whether that’s via social media, web, phone, etc.  Many of our customers have smart phones so mobile engagement is very desirable.  As technologies continue to evolve and other companies introduce new ways of engagement, we will need to continue to think creatively about how we engage the ever-evolving utility customer of today.


MC: A question applicable to both of your presentations: You’re both approaching digital data and what it can do to bolster the customer experience. Would you say the customer experience in utilities has become more of a focus in recent years? Has the ability of this data made that more of a priority or is it just unlocking new ways in which to address what’s always been such a high priority?

JA: I would say that Customer Experience has always been a focus in utilities – things like JD Power and CSAT surveys have always been around –  but we didn’t have the right tools and technology to truly enable us to meet and exceed their expectations and create a desirable experience.  We now have evolving technology that allows us to better personalize our service and meet customers’ demands.


RH: To tag onto that, we can take our granular customer experience data and combine it with operational data to uncover opportunities and identify areas where we can improve.  It is enabling us to take a data-driven approach to define how we want to and how we can improve the overall customer experience.


MC: One of the most exciting parts of this upcoming SAP for Utilities Conference for you has to come from Duke Energy winning the Excellence in Customer Service SAP Industry Innovation Award. Can you talk a bit about what that award means to you and how much you think your ability to tap into digital insights has driven Duke to achieve this great recognition?

RH: We are so proud to accept this award on behalf of our entire Program team.  Our team works hard every day to deliver a better experience for our customers and recognition through this award really goes a long way.  Our ability to tap into data and digital insights through the SAP technology has certainly played a role in our journey and in our successes thus far.  In addition, on our Program team, we have built a deliberate culture that is focused on delivering results the right way while focusing on our employees and customers. Every new team member is required to go through an onboarding session with us, as well as go through culture training to understand the behaviors that are necessary to be successful as a team. Integral to this team culture is nurturing common values across the program: Commitment, Candor, Customer Focus and Collaboration. We view these values as foundational to delivering a program of this size and magnitude on scope, on schedule and on budget.


MC: Besides that and the presentations that the two of you will be giving, are there any other hot topics that you’re particularly excited to learn about and hear about progress from your colleagues across the industry? What do you expect to be the big theme and takeaway from this year’s conference?

JA: It is always great to build relationships and deepen existing relationships at these events.  Hearing about and seeing how other companies are leveraging the technology pushes us to think outside of the box and learn new ways and use cases for the tools we are implementing. We expect to hear a lot more stories about how other companies are using data and digital insights to achieve their customer experience goals; it is such a relevant and pertinent topic in the industry.

If you’re interested in hearing more about the insights Retha and Jassi are bringing to the digital and data-driven customer experiences, be sure to check out their presentations at SAP for Utilities Conference, taking place from October 21 to 23 in San Diego, California. You can check out the agenda and register for the conference here.


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