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How Vendor Partners Can Help Utilities Pivot During Crises

Posted to Utility 2030 Collaborative in the Customer Care Group

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Mechele Herres's picture
Marketing Utility 2030 Collaborative

Customer obsessed in the utility and federal government verticals as a marketer. Started with an IOU in marketing and helped start up two new companies that focused on developing and marketing...

  • Member since 2021
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When unexpected challenges threaten business-as-usual, organizations need to have strong, vendor partners—already in place—to help them innovate and pivot quickly. Because utilities are public-facing entities that offer critical services to customers, they suffer the consequences of negative headlines more than other types of businesses. As a result, failing to meet or exceed customer expectations is an unacceptable scenario.

Everyone reading this article lived through COVID-19 in 2020 and, in most cases, is still nursing the “COVID-19 hangover.” While this isn’t a new story, we must realize COVID-19 wasn’t the first and won’t be the last significant threat to the utility industry. It simply brought to light the challenges and best practices of being agile and flexible during a crisis.

Quick Response for the City of Olathe, Kansas

One of the organizations that is part of the best practices, COVID-19 response story, is the utility arm of the City of Olathe, Kansas. When a concerning subset of the City’s nearly 47,000 residents started reporting job loss and their subsequent inability to pay their bills on time, the City was able to help customers quickly get back on track by collaborating with Level One, a Doxim company. Level One, headquartered in Pennsylvania, provides utility-specific billing and payment solutions, guiding utilities and other regulated companies toward successful customer engagement.

In the case of Olathe, Kansas, many of its customers reporting payment challenges had never missed a payment, and only some had previous delinquency issues. Across both groups, these customers were proactively seeking help from the City to find a way forward, so the City wanted to strike while the iron was hot.

In the downloadable case study, “The City of Olathe, KS, Partners with Level One to Deliver Rapid-Response Payment Arrangement Program During the Pandemic,” Ronni Decker, Customer Service Manager for the City of Olathe shares, “We wanted to demonstrate our empathy in response to the emotions of the City—that we care for the people in our community—and wanted to offer a viable alternative to demanding payment in full.”


Program Features & Benefits

Within a matter of days—versus weeks or months—Level One and the City of Olathe collaboratively created and deployed a new payment arrangement program that gave their customers:

  • Clear, empathetic communications to offer customers payment options all through a self-service, multi-channel customer portal;
  • Increased and refined customer self-service, multi-channel accessible tools that provide the status of payment arrangement with live agent support for those who need it; and
  • Terms and conditions, offered electronically, that are easy to accept and form a contract between the City and customer.

Program Results

Overall speed-to-market, without compromising quality, was of utmost importance to the City of Olathe. And with Level One’s help, they have been able to provide it. Here are some key stats related to how the payment arrangement plan performed when it was offered, and early results:

  • Nearly 600 customers enrolled in the program as of October 2020;
  • Customer service calls decreased to a normal level once the online form was available;
  • Recent survey results indicate that customer satisfaction levels remain steady; and
  • 83% are honoring their arrangement.

“We were pleased that the City of Olathe was able to leverage our industry expertise. The City, having engaged Level One, benefitted from our previous engagements with other utility clients that implemented our recommendations for payment arrangement options,” noted John Boland, President, Level One.

As mentioned above, COVID-19 wasn’t the first and won’t be the last significant threat to the utility business.  But, utilities—in collaboration through vendor partnerships with the commitment to help utilities solve problems—are the answer to advancing agility and flexibility. To learn more, read the entire case study at The City of Olathe, KS, Partners with Level One to Deliver Rapid-Response Payment Arrangement Program During the Pandemic - Billing and payments, personalized: Billing and payments, personalized (golevelone.com).

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We are a community of business professionals building a blueprint for the digital customer-centric utility of the future by defining and creating content, frameworks, standards, and the people who will lead us forward.
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mark wilkinson's picture
mark wilkinson on Apr 12, 2021

Great post.  Our feedback from utility clients, as well as other highly regulated industries, was that COVID forced a lot of uncertainty to the forefront and generated overwhelming customer inquiries.  Customers demanded more information and insight from their utilities, as well as more direct contact.  Partners can help utilities communicate more effectively by using digital connections and content.  And, vendors and partners typically can pivot into action more quickly with new tactics like business process outsourcing and website updates to help manage customer demands until life returns to #thenextnormal.  Trick remains how to find talented partners and quickly engage to support customers.  Glad to see this type of information making it to the forefront.

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