This is a timely and intriguing question. Most (virtually all) utilities that I have been involved with over the last few years have some type of initiative that is similar to PSE's "GTZ" program, but this is just part of the story.
Minimizing call times is a business metric that businesses that have call centers have. Call centers tend to be massive cost centers, so trimming costs is usually a good thing for a business. In the utility industry, where the traditional business model is cratering on a daily basis, trimming costs in not just a good thing, it is a survival imperative. Looking at this question and how utilities are managing call center costs, a few questions are merited:
- Utilities are recognizing the imperative to be customer-centric, and most people in the space agree that this is critical due to the changing nature of how a customer engages with its utility, rooftop solar and EVs being two of the more prominent examples of how this relationship is changing. The question I ask is, how can a utility be customer-centric, yet at the same time have programs that explicitly limit and try to eliminate actually talking with a customer? This is incongruous. Utilities need to reconcile how they want and need to engage with their customers.
- In this vane, I know of at least one large eastern US utility that successfully looked at the customer expense and turned it on its head during the pandemic. Instead of having outbound customer calls and visits be seen strictly as a collections activity, these activities became opportunities to work with customers that were having difficulties paying their utility bills. These customer contacts were viewed as positioning the utility as being helpful, not just being a de facto collections agency. The result was an increase in payments. The cost center just became a profit center!
- A final thought is that, as the example above demonstrates, how utility customers need to be engaged is very fluid. The pandemic and recent major storm events demonstrate this. "GTZ" and similar initiatives definitely have a place in how a utility manages its costs in this challenging business environment, but There needs to be a more holistic approach to how these business goals are accomplished.
Thanks for this questions and for the opportunity to opine. --Mike Smith