Customer Care—Why Was It So Difficult?

Posted to Esri in the Customer Care Group
image credit: Photo 24190642 © Bjorn Hovdal |
Pat  Hohl's picture
Director - Electric Industry Solutions Esri

Pat Hohl, PE, is Esri's director of electric industry solutions. He was a pioneer in the use of GIS for electric utilities. He has over 35 years of experience in utility engineering, technology...

  • Member since 2018
  • 136 items added with 192,906 views
  • Nov 24, 2020

Gayle politely interrupted me, "I have the call center manager on the phone; she needs to talk to you right now!" I trusted her judgment without hesitation.

The manager hurried to explain that the irate customer on hold insisted to speak to "whoever is in charge of this utility before he loses it!" She transferred him to me with a clear sigh of relief.

The customer wanted the pole in his yard moved. He was angry, and he was counting. Complaints to eight different utility employees, including managers of customer service, operations, and engineering, yielded no satisfaction. I assured him I would help and offered to meet at his home.

He snorted, "When?" "I could be there right after lunch if that would work for you," I said.

"You'll come here . . . today?" he stumbled in utter disbelief. "That sounds good."

I removed my jacket and tie and pulled out my work boots. That's a good look—steel-toed boots, suit pants, and rolled-up shirtsleeves. The customer met me at the curb and correctly judged at a glance that I would help.

Gazing above, we walked across the street and up the hill behind his house. I listened as he spoke, "This is ridiculous. Why is this pole so much bigger than the others? Why is your guy wire blocking my property?"

I had the easement drawing in my pocket, but I was sure he'd already heard about that. I wondered if he'd been further annoyed with a lecture about the utility's prescriptive rights for equipment on his property. It didn't make sense to him—and he wanted to know why.

I described the equipment, how it was built, and its function in detail—phone, cable TV (CATV), high-voltage, and secondary wires and guy wires. "Imagine how heavy those wires are and how much they pull on that pole," I said. Then in a moment of levity, I quipped, "They've been trying to pull that pole over for decades, but we built it right. If that pole did go over, it would tear the service right off your house. You'd have no power." He finally understood.

As a result, our conversation took a hard left turn toward friendly. Now satisfied, he forgot about poles and proudly showed me the project he was building in his yard. Why had it been so difficult to help this customer before?

Why was it so difficult?

First, no one understood the customer or his point of view. Customers are individuals. Approaching all customers as ratepayers isn't very helpful. (Read about a good approach in Texas)

Second, despite the many people involved, communication was severely lacking. (Read about great communication in Seattle) Busy employees simply parroted standard answers to standard questions. You want some poles moved? Make a cost estimate. Tell the customer, "Write us a check for $20,000, and we'll schedule it." Not very helpful for the typical homeowner. This customer didn't understand the why, or how the pole affected him.

Finally, this customer was exasperated with FAQ-style answers. He needed specific information. Customers today expect detailed, personalized information. These same people, who get tightly focused weather forecasts on their phone, such as, "It will start raining at 2:00 p.m. in your location," expect similar details and individualized treatment from their utility.

Not all customers are the same.

Some customers have poles in their yard, and some do not. Some want efficiency rebates; some are very concerned about tree trimming. Understand your customers, and communicate clearly with specifics that match their needs at their location.

Vibrant demographic information makes customer patterns leap out and come alive. Location technology connects customers with the utility's infrastructure, programs, and activities. When customers and employees use the same web maps and apps, people get answers to their questions the first time—instead of the ninth.

For more information about how ArcGIS location technology elevates customer care, visit our website.

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Mark Wilkinson's picture
Mark Wilkinson on Dec 7, 2020

I have to admit to some jealousy about Mr. Hohl's experience.  I have wished dozens of times to be in a position to help a customer in such a personalized fashion, and that he could get in a vehicle to meet the customer exactly where they needed the help, doesn't happen very often.  Pat's lessons resonate, that first and foremost our front line teams must seek to understand the customer.  So much of the initial care call ends up as triage so that the agent can find the right response in the "knowledge base" or FAQ's, but that pressure can backfire and cause us to lose the human connection to the customer.  Great article.

Pat  Hohl's picture
Thank Pat for the Post!
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