Jon Finkelstein: Hi. Welcome to Shift, PwC Canada’s podcast series, and we’re digging into key digital trends and topics that can make your business transformation a reality. I’m your host, Jon Finkelstein, and I’m also the Creative Director of PwC Canada. All right. Welcome to another edition of Shift. I’m really excited, this is the first time we’ve taken Shift on the road. For our listeners, we’re in Hamilton and we are at the head office of Alectra Utilities, and I’m here with Eileen Campbell, VP, Customer Service at Alectra. Welcome to the podcast.
Eileen Campbell: Well, welcome to Hamilton, and thank you for having me on Shift.
Jon Finkelstein: Today we’re talking about customer experience. It’s a really hot topic these days as everybody can imagine, our expectations about what brands and what companies are going to do for us is ever changing and it’s always getting better. We’ve been spoiled by some of the great brands like Apple and Amazon, and we’re judging every other brand’s customer service by the best we’ve ever had by other brands. That puts you in an interesting position as a monopoly because as a consumer, I don’t really have a choice about where I’m going to get my power from. Yet you take customer service extremely seriously.
That’s what we’re going to talk about today. All the different things you’re doing, how you’re doing it, why it’s important and I think that’s a really cool place to start. Maybe you can just take two seconds and just tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do here and how you got here and what you last took for dinner.
Eileen Campbell: Love to. I am the leader, or the lead of the customer service group here at Alectra. I joined the organization in February when we formed our new company. Previously, I was the vice president of customer service with Horizon Utilities, located here at this office in Hamilton. I started in the utility industry with Hamilton Hydro, which is a predecessor of Horizon, back in 1980. And so, I’ve been around for a number of years. I actually started in the organization as a customer service rep, so I very proudly wore the headset and served our customers in the front line.
My new role at Alectra is very focused on customer experience and leading the customer service team. Our focus today is around integration and bringing together our four legacy utilities.
Jon Finkelstein: That must be an uphill climb, I’m guessing.
Eileen Campbell: The interesting thing with this merger, the four utilities, we, in each one of the utilities that have come together in this merger were leaders in their own areas, so very much four like-minded companies coming together with a common objective and putting customers first and being customer-centric organizations. The uphill climb is not quite as... There’s a lot to do and there’s a lot of work that has to be done in the integration, and it’s very complex in some of the projects that we have going on. But the vision of the organization, all four companies coming together had the customer vision.
Jon Finkelstein: You talked a lot about your customer experience vision. Maybe you could talk a little bit about what is that vision.
Eileen Campbell: Sure. The vision for Alectra is to provide all of our customers across our service territory, which goes from Penetanguishene down to Niagara, a consistent experience with every touchpoint and every communication channel we have. So, regardless of where you are in our service territory, we’re looking to provide you with that consistent experience. We’re looking to have a connection with our customers, a relationship with our customers. And we’re looking to tailor that relationship into more personalized experiences as well.
As an example, a customer has a preferred method on how they want to communicate with us. So, we want to have a consistent experience across all the channels of communication. However, if somebody wants to use a digital experience with us, if somebody wants to talk to us on the phone, if somebody wants to come in person, we want to be able to provide those different methods of communication based on the customer choice, but in a consistent manner.
Jon Finkelstein: So, part of it is, “Hey, let’s stick to the channel of choice.” Awesome. I’m assuming as part of your vision, maybe it’s a leading question but, you want to set some kind of standard about what it means to be Alectra, how we want to communicate people. I’m sure there’s some shared values around what that means, and how we treat people, how we present ourselves.
Eileen Campbell: Exactly. We’re looking at the customer experiences beyond the transaction. So, we’re looking at really that development of the relationship with our customers so that we understand what their needs are. You spoke earlier about, our expectations have continued to evolve and...doesn’t matter if you’re dealing with a travel agency or you’re dealing with a bank or you’re dealing with a utility, customers have a perception or a view in their mind of what they expect that experience to look like. And when you think about it, why wouldn’t you? You’ probably do the same thing.
You want it to look like how you want it to be so that it meets your needs.
Jon Finkelstein: Certainly one of the themes I think in any kind of customer experience is personalization. That’s kind of one of the themes that we’re seeing in a lot of businesses. It’s like it’s all great for me as a brand or as a company to think about, “This is how I want to talk to you,” but it may not be how as a customer I want you to talk to me. I think that’s really important. It’s like, there’s so many great memes going on about how you react when someone calls you instead of texts you.
I don’t actually want to pick up the phone, I just want to text.
Eileen Campbell: Yes, exactly. Exactly. We want to be able to provide the information and communication in the preferred method from the customer, but also to be able to give them the information that they’re looking for, to be able to have information at their fingertips, so if they want to self-serve, it’s a very simple transaction and they want to just take care of that, that’s great. Something a little more complex, we want to be able to take the time to spend with them to have a people interaction so that there’s a good understanding.
Jon Finkelstein: I’m curious what customers want from you because my mind goes immediately to complaints, right? “My power is not working. My bill is too expensive. What is this charge?” It’s got to be more than that.
Eileen Campbell: What customers want from us is when they get home or in their business and they turn that switch on, that the lights come on. So, they’re looking for consistent, reliable delivery of power, whether you’re a residential customer or a business customer. And for a business customer, it’s probably a little more important because it affects their bottom line. So they’re looking for the power to be on, they’re looking for the lights to be on. They want timely, accurate bills—they want to know when they open up that bill, that it’s accurate, it’s right. They don’t have to spend a lot of time on it.
And they also want those bills to be affordable. And they’re also looking for information. You talk about complaints, if they have an issue with their bill or a question on their bill, they want us to be accessible, they want us to give them quick, accurate information.
And if their power is out, they want to know when it’s coming back on.
Jon Finkelstein: Yeah. You almost want to be told you’re on it before I even have a chance to tell you that it’s off.
Eileen Campbell: Absolutely.
Jon Finkelstein: It’s like the second hotline, they call you before you call them. I have to imagine that there’s probably some emerging tech that’s happening in the background to help with that.
Eileen Campbell: Yes.
Jon Finkelstein: So tell me, because I love technology. I love, whether we’re talking about machine learning or predictive analytics and all those kind of stuff, I’m a bit of a nerd. It’s not just people on phones. What’s behind, what kind of tech is behind this stuff?
Eileen Campbell: We’re making investments in our systems now to ensure that we’re providing customers with the best value from the services that we provide them. One of the big projects that we have underway right now is we’re bringing together all of our customer information onto an industry-leading platform. All of our customer information will be on a single platform, and that’s really the launching pad for our customer experience, building out from there. There’s a lot of investments in self-serve technologies so that customers can self serve. You talked about automation. We need our systems to do simple transactions for us. We need to build in automations in our processes so that it gives our people the time that they need to spend with customers on more complex issues.
So, you take away sort of all those... The old reality is manual processes, the new reality is these need to be automated processes. We need the pop-up information for our staff so that they have what they need to know about this customer right when they’re talking to them, and then they can serve them and give them that full 360 view of their experience with us.
Jon Finkelstein: So things like robotic process automation, RPA. There’s been a lot of talk about that. And what’s really interesting when we work in public sector, the notion of automation freaks a lot of people out, right?
Eileen Campbell: Yeah.
Jon Finkelstein: Are you finding that?
Eileen Campbell: Yeah.
Jon Finkelstein: What I mean by that, for people who are listening, it’s like, “Well, if the computers and the robots are doing my job or at least the job that I used to do, what will I do now?” And you talked a little bit about it a second ago in terms of, how do we redeploy the resources that we have, the people resources we have, against stuff that really matters.
Eileen Campbell: That’s where it gets really exciting because nobody wants to do those manual processes anyway. The same transactions blah, blah, blah, blah. You don’t really want to do those. So, we’re investing in our people to build their skills, so upskilling our people. Somebody asked me, “Well, when you go into all these automated processes, or you’re bringing in the robotic automation, are going to have less people?” I’m going to say we’re probably going to have more people, because we’re going to need... It’s going to be a different skill, but we’re going to need the technology, we’re going to have to support the technology, so our IT infrastructure and how right now we’re staffed for IT resources, the face of that is going to change.
Jon Finkelstein: Let me ask you a question. We talked a little bit about your platform and some automation that’s happening. What other emerging techs or technologies are you using to provide data, to provide a better experience? Smart metering, for example.
Eileen Campbell: Smart metering is probably a really good example. Across Ontario, we have deployed smart meters to all of our end-use customers. The information flow, the two-way communication flow with the meters and accessibility to the grid is definitely emerging. We at one point in time we used to go out and manually read those meters, so a meter reader would walk down the street and read each one of those meters. We now pull those meters on an hourly basis and bring that information into the back office.
The value of that is, first of all, we have hour-by-hour rich data to be able to help customers with their energy profiles. We have tools then that assist them to help manage their own energy cost because they can view their consumption data in our online portals, they can track when they’re using their consumption. We have time-of-use rates that are in Ontario as well, so they can look to shift the usage off from the on-peak, which is the higher rate, to the off-peak and save money through how they use their electricity.
The other value from the technology and having the meters on an electronic platform is we also know when that meter’s off. If there’s a power outage in the area and we know we’ve fixed the transformer in the neighbourhood, we can now go to check to see that all 10 of those houses that are connected to the transformer are back on by pinging that meter, and we know that the power has been restored without having to have a truck go out to check that.
Jon Finkelstein: What do you think the utility of the future looks like or, what does Alectra of the future look like? Where do you see customer experience going in the next 10 years?
Eileen Campbell: In the next 10 years is not that far away, right?
Jon Finkelstein: Okay, I’ll make it 20.
Eileen Campbell: No, exactly.
Jon Finkelstein: It’s not that far away, but it’s kind of doable.
Eileen Campbell: Yes, so when you look at that 5, 10, 15, 20-year mark, where the customer experience is going is, customers are looking for flexibility, choice, and accessibility to the grid. They’re looking to connect to the grid, they’re looking for that, not just to be takers of the power, they’re looking to be generators of the power. But they’re also looking for accessibility to information. I see us in the 5-year future mark out, the 10-year future mark out, having very robust systems in place that it will allow the customers to gather that information, get whatever they need to be able to satisfy whatever objectives they have, whether that’ll be generation, whether it’ll be conservation, whether it’ll be they just don’t want to have to worry about their bill and they want to know when they go over a certain value or they need to know if during the day when they’re at work, their children have every light on, and the furnace up to 90 degrees and...
Jon Finkelstein: Have you been to my house?
Eileen Campbell: Exactly. And their consumption is going through the roof. I’m expecting and what we’re building towards is, that through artificial intelligence, robotics processing, that we will be able to instantaneously deliver this information, either into the fingertips of a rep who’s dealing with a customer, and/or to an end-user customer if they want to deal with it themselves.
Jon Finkelstein: What advice would you have for large organizations who are really trying to ramp up excellence in consumer experience?
Eileen Campbell: Process, process, process.
Jon Finkelstein: Well, tell me more about that.
Eileen Campbell: Well, you mentioned earlier about the back office needs to support what’s out in the front office, and in order for the back office to support that, we need and large businesses need, or any business needs very robust processes that are followed from beginning to end.To manage that customer experience and have that consistent customer experience, you really need to have those solid processes in place to make that happen.
Jon Finkelstein: I’m interested in the dynamic, or the relationship between providing excellent customer experience and regulation. Because I’m imagining that to a certain degree or maybe to a lot of degree, you are a master or servant to two constituents. On the one hand, we’ve got government and we’ve got regulations and policy that dictate price and all this kind of stuff, and that might fly in the face of consumer experience and what people want, lower rates this kind of stuff. How do you manage that?
Eileen Campbell: It is interesting being in a regulated environment, and the regulation that dictates on how we bill, or rates and how rates are set, we have very little control over. Though, we are an advocate on behalf of our customers and we are involved in every consultation regardless if it’s a consultation about changing rates or it’s about bringing in a new program, a conservation program. So we’re advocates for our customers, the voice to send back into the government.
Jon Finkelstein: Eileen, thank you so much for spending time with us.
Eileen Campbell: Thanks.
Jon Finkelstein: Sharing some insights about what you guys are doing and from the customer experience side of things, how you’re merging the companies, what kind of tech you’re using, and really giving some thoughts to people who are listening about what they need to do to provide excellence in their customer experience. So thanks very much, I’m an Alectra customer, I’m glad my lights are pretty much always on.
Eileen Campbell: Fantastic.
Jon Finkelstein: I don’t mean that we leave them on, I mean that when I go to use them they work.
Eileen Campbell: They’re on. Well, I’m very glad to hear that and thanks for the opportunity to talk with you today.
Jon Finkelstein: Thank you.
That’s right. Thanks for listening to this episode of Shift. You can get more details at PwC.com/CA/Shift. If you enjoyed this episode and want to hear more, subscribe to our podcast series. You can find us on iTunes, Google Play or your preferred podcast platform. Just so you know, this podcast has been prepared by PricewaterhouseCoopers, LLP, an Ontario Limited liability partnership for general guidance on matters of interest only and does not constitute professional advice. Until next time.
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