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The art of energy customer service

03232015-Expanding-expectationsIf you deliver top quality services, but miss out on providing great customer service, the majority of your customers will find alternate solution providers no matter how good your offerings may be. That’s something critical infrastructure service providers such as electric utilities are learning more and more.

That’s the importance of delivering services while adapting to regulatory changes, even as you improve communications with your customers, whether they’re internal or external. These communication initiatives are not only related to the quality of regular service, but value-added services as well. This relates not just to where we are today, but where we’re going in the future, and why.

Transforming the power grid
Electric utilities are working together to transform the power grid to improve reliability. Based on active discussions, it is clear that a significant number of internal utility employees, customers and regulators don’t understand why. It can be very easy to see eyes glaze over when you discuss regulatory, generation, distribution and transmission changes. But the reality is that the reliability of electric power is critical to our quality of life and utility employees are engaging to become better “Students of the Business,” while consumers are becoming better “Energy Portfolio Managers,” with expanding expectations.

For discussion purposes, the utility power grid can be easily broken into three basic elements:

  1. Generation
  2. Transmission
  3. Distribution

It takes a significant amount of engineering and integration to combine these three elements into our national power grid. A much higher level of engineering and integration is required when you transform a limited number of generating power sources into a distributed system, which potentially consists of an unlimited number of renewable energy generation sources.

What’s that have to do with customer service?
The transformation of these systems not only have a direct impact on the quality of life and cost of electricity, but fuel our increasing desire for energy options. We’ve seen the challenges created when well-meaning leaders and organizations aren’t coordinated in their efforts. Examples hit close to home within our families, communities, where we work and throughout our country.

It wasn’t that long ago that scalable renewable energy options entered the marketplace. Initially we saw “nice” players enter into the renewable industry. Now you see turnkey integration projects ranging from small remote facilities to large utility grade renewable generation facilities. The electric industry engineers are required to design and build these types of systems to last 20 years or more.

Customer service concept in word tag cloud on whiteLeaders working together benefit us all
Industry leaders are recognizing the value-add of designing larger facilities to meet utility design requirements, but also the value of smarter design for smaller systems to meet efficiency and safety requirements. This isn’t much different than the transformation the cell phone industry has experienced.

For example, over the past decade, the cell phone industry’s growth has followed the transformation of a voice-only network to a voice and data network. This required system integration with end-user devices, all based on industry standards to address customer requirements. While user costs have gone up somewhat, it’s been accepted because the value has gone up significantly, well beyond just dialing a phone number.

“The Art of Critical Infrastructure Customer Service,” as I’m calling it, isn’t going to be based on any one company, but how well industry leaders work together to tear down traditional silos, both within their organizations and with external industry partners. I have had the privilege to be a part of changes in the critical infrastructure industry first-hand, as carriers, electric utilities and public safety groups have coordinated with local, state and federal government agencies. The advancements made by leading critical infrastructure organizations teaming together are only achieved when the entire industry is focused on not just meeting a need, but meeting that need with excellent customer service!

Experience and value-add drives customers to share their view of the value your organization provides. That customer power is now amplified by social media, which gives individuals a collective, and prominent, voice. There will always be winners and losers, but successful critical infrastructure service providers that raise the bar with excellent customer service and adding value will be the model for success.

About the author

Dan is our account executive in the Critical Infrastructure market and has more than 35 years of providing customer-driven technology and energy solutions to critical infrastructure operators in the United States and Canada. He focuses on critical intelligent infrastructure, from smart grids to communications connections, and how they are used as consumers become energy portfolio managers.