Shaping Customer Experience
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Shaping Customer Experience

Hui Wu-Curtis, GM, Customer Service Operations & Strategy, Arizona Public Service - APS
Hui Wu-Curtis, GM, Customer Service Operations & Strategy, Arizona Public Service - APS

Hui Wu-Curtis, GM, Customer Service Operations & Strategy, Arizona Public Service - APS

Contact centers are one of the main touch points of customers for organizations. Many contact centers, through various channels (voice, web chat, social media, text messaging, email), process millions of interactions each year. Once seen as a cost-center, contact centers are slowly evolving into a much more strategic part of the business. According to a Walker study, by the year 2020 customer experience will overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator. While customer expectations for more and better service are growing, utility companies have not kept up. The energy utility industry, being predominantly an asset-based company, has traditionally focused on ensuring reliability, compliance and cost efficiency – keeping the lights on and the power costs stable.

Today’s customers, however, look for more than merely operational competence in their interactions with their energy utility company. Customers want better responsiveness, simplification of complex interactions and services that help them better tailor their electrical usage. As customers interact with the utility contact center, customers’ expectations are changing. They have become accustomed to certain level of service from other industries such as Sephora, Amazon, Walt Disney, Ritz-Carlton and JetBlue. In today’s market, although APS (Arizona Public Service) is in a regulated market, the company sees the need to be more customer-centric and competitive; being ahead of the game instead of waiting for the need to arise. This has prompted a more holistic strategy around improving the customer experience especially in the contact centers.

  Today, the contact centers serve as a gold mine of information and opportunity to help drive customer experience while providing business value  

In order to create a positive customer experience, you must start by putting your people first – ALWAYS! According to research by Demand Metric Corporation, organizations with over 50 percent employee engagement retain over 80 percent of their customers. Customer experience means a lot of things however it starts with personalizing the interaction and making connections. Yet when you think about traditionally ran contact centers, quality departments still listen to calls to ensure compliance, soft skills and scripting adherence. Because quality is often tied to an incentive measure, frontline representatives follow the call flow and ensure they check off the quality requirements such as saying the customer’s name three times during the call (to build a more personal interaction) so they don’t get penalized. Does this constitute a good customer experience? Tradition contact centers must be managed different to move away for the rigidity of the past and bring back the humanity. At APS, we have transformed our quality department to the Customer Interactions (CI) team focusing on listening to calls and leveraging speech analytics to identify customer pain points, failures in our processes and technology, outdated and cumbersome policies and feedback on correspondence or marketing materials. This insight is then shared with other internal teams to make changes to our website, marketing and communications content and mobile application. The CI team’s insights are finding opportunities to update and simplify policies and procedures while streamlining processes for our customers, with our customers in mind.

In our digital landscape, we are redesigning and enhancing our capabilities on our website. Our Business Operations Analyst Team have coined the term ‘auto-manual processing’ in which self-service items on our website generates manual processes or work-arounds that get routed to the contact center. There are several points of potential failure in this scenario so we are building in workflow automation. The repetitive type of processing work has been identified and are now being done by bots.

It is no surprise that mobile phone usage continues to be on the rise. has found that time on mobile is mostly app time: People are spending an average of 3:23 per day in apps, and only 50 minutes on the mobile web. Nearly 75 percent of US adults will use a smartphone in 2017, as market penetration continues to increase. On the APS mobile app, our customers can choose to receive notifications regarding outages, energy usage thresholds, bill estimate thresholds (going beyond a certain dollar amount). By putting more information in the hands of our customers, we are providing them greater control and visibility; driving a better customer experience. Our customer service team stands for the customer therefore we often influence system design and enhancements while ensuring overall consistency and alignment across multiple customer touch points.

This year the contact center has undergone enhancements to the IVR providing natural language capabilities, for a better, easier customer experience, while routing the calls to the right place. Next phase of development will be adding personalization to the IVR self-service channel – identifying customers from their telephone number (ANI) and using information from our billing system to predict and personalize the call.

There are many moving parts in a contact center and while we continue to evaluate and conduct proof of concepts for other channels, data and analytics become critical for our business. Not only does it provide us with visibility on the customer journey but it also allows us to better understand cross channel behaviors. Data and analytics by itself does not drive action. Many organizations have large amounts of data but do very little with it. Being able to understand data that help us connect seemingly disparate data points from different systems will enable us to begin building predictive models, customize and target our marketing and communications and use propensity models for proactive outreach to our customers from our contact centers.

Contact centers and the technologies to support and enhance the delivery of service have come a long way. In the past, technology was used for call deflection, driving down costs and managing the workforce. Today, the contact centers serve as a gold mine of information and opportunity to help drive customer experience while providing business value. APS, an energy utility company, powering Arizona for more than 130 years is going through a transformation and the contact centers are at the very center of it all. Evolving from a reactive environment to a proactive one, driving insights, strategy and business results.

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