It’s always a good feeling when the efforts of your team are recognized by others. Third-party endorsements, whether through awards or acknowledgements from customers or colleagues, have a way of bolstering the confidence of everyone in the organization.
Ameren Illinois received such recognition when the Utility Trusted Brand & Customer Engagement™ Business study named our company to its list of the most trusted electric utility brands among business customers in America. The study by Market Strategies International analyzes and ranks utilities on attributes, such as customer focus, communications effectiveness and reliable quality. There is something special about having the word “trust” associated with your company, and we were proud to be ranked #11 among the 60 largest U.S. utilities.
As I dug deeper into the survey methodology and results, I reflected on what we are doing right and where we have opportunities to do even better. I concluded that focusing on three key pillars has enabled us to earn the trust of our customers:
Knowing Customer Needs
In the regulated energy delivery business, it would be easy to become complacent when it comes to building customer focused programs. After all, if customers have no choice about which company delivers power, why invest significant resources in customer engagement? My philosophy has always been to challenge our co-workers to be empathetic and responsive to the customer. We’re able to do that, in part, by utilizing data and customer demographics. It sounds impersonal, but in fact, it’s just the opposite, and the concept is really simple. For every individual who wants to save energy in order to protect the planet, others are motivated by saving money. For every individual who prefers to learn about our programs and services through their monthly energy bill, another rarely opens an envelope and only responds to a text. Data helps us personalize customer interactions and demonstrate that we understand them, care about what they want and are committed to communicating in the manner they prefer.
Several years ago, I was approached by a member of my operations team. He told me about work that required us to dig into a customer’s yard. Our crews completed the job but left the yard in poor condition. The customer wasn’t happy and let us know about it. It turns out that we planned to come back to re-grade and re-sod the yard in a few days, but we did not inform the customer. I was stunned. How could we not have shared that critical piece of information? Whether it was a failure to follow our process or a simple oversight, it underscored the critical importance of communication. When it comes to the customer, you can never over-communicate. If someone calls, return it. If a customer has a problem, let them know the steps you’re taking to make it right. Our improvement in this area is one of the reasons why our customers trust us more today than they ever have before.
High-performing organizations succeed when their goals and objectives are clearly articulated and consistent from one year to the next. It’s even more important that these metrics align with the company’s overall business strategy. We measure performance factors, such as the frequency of customer power interruptions, the duration of those interruptions, our speed in responding to customer concerns and the satisfaction of our customers when they interact with us. Then, we make the results easily visible to all in the organization. By doing so, we’re instilling a culture of continuous improvement and accountability and delivering a positive customer experience.
I’m proud of the strides we have made in improving the customer experience, but we are not satisfied. By committing to developing a personal connection, communicating and ensuring that all levels of the organization are accountable for achieving results, we “think customer” in our daily actions.
At Ameren Illinois, we have a defined goal to deliver a world class customer service experience. Some might say that is a lofty aspiration for a delivery-only energy company to have, but we believe in setting the bar high and reaching for it every day.