My family moved last month, a challenging undertaking in the best of times and a whole ‘nother level of crazy during a pandemic. It certainly presented a number of interesting interactions with diverse customer service organizations. We encountered long service queues, dropped calls, over-extended ill-fitting technology and processes, and first time remote workers on newly distributed teams. In the midst of all this, here is the story of how one utility provided us good, then better, then ultimately the best customer service.

Good Service Starts and Ends With Good Process

Moving to a new home in a different state means lots of interaction with utility services. Shutting off existing services? No problem, a surprisingly simple process. Utilities — at least ours — have all gone digital with their billing and service systems and, perhaps most importantly, the contact center representatives have access to key systems and information, despite working remotely.

Even the process to return internet equipment easily conformed to the new normal — upon our stop service request, we received shipment of a return box, instructions and a prepaid UPS label. All went smoothly with service closed, equipment returned, return receipt email to confirm and account properly credited.

In fact, a single easy contact call to each utility sufficed…except for one utility. The experience with that utility included a process determined to confuse. Here’s what happened.

My notification call to the utility’s contact center found a seemingly well-informed representative who proceeded to explain the service shut off process to me. It involved downloading a form from the web, entering what seemed like a lot of info, much of which they would already know, and the customer taking meter readings then submitting upon closing. While this process seemed complex and customer task-intensive, especially compared to the other utilities’ processes, it was clearly explained and the call was a satisfactory experience.

Related Article: Calculating Customer Value Delivered

Personal Initiative Delivers Better Service

Our closing and moving day was a blur. We were fortunate to have done good prep ahead of time, but the meter reading had to be done that day. So we scrambled to take the reading that morning per the instructions before jumping in the car and heading out to our new adventure.

At closing we happened to mention we needed to submit that one utility form and the experts told us ‘just call and give them the reading and they should be able to do the rest.’ That sounded better than the complex process, so that was our new plan.

I made the call to the utility while we were in transit and explained my request and said I had our meter reading. The agent tried to send me back around to the web form and the multi-step process, but I further explained what I had been told at closing and that I was in transit. She then indicated she could take care of that for me. Good interaction ensued and submission completed.

Oops, not completed after all. I got a call that went to vmail from the agent asking me to call the contact center.

Learning Opportunities

At first I was annoyed, but as I listened to her message I realized she was taking good care with my transaction.  She had found that consumption from the reading I gave her seemed way too high based on the last reading they had taken. Had she captured the reading accurately from me or did I have a different reading perhaps?

This showed good initiative on the part of the agent, and definitely a better level of service than just mindlessly entering the reading and letting it all get worked out later. However, the callback number she gave me was the general queue, so I did wonder what I would encounter next.

The Best Service Combines Technology With the Best People

I hit the jackpot on my third call to the utility. The agent who took that call was knowledgeable, empathetic and proactive.

I expressed my dismay that we had apparently not taken a correct meter reading and now we were in transit so couldn’t. His response, “No worries, you should not be expected to be the experts in meter reading and we will take care of that for you.”

The agent listened attentively and quickly investigated the situation. He used the available systems expertly to confirm what the previous agent had discovered, then proceeded to take responsibility and solve the problem.

He explained that he had ordered a remote reading and that should take care of any discrepancies. Now this technology and procedure was clearly available to all three agents I spoke with, but only the third agent — the best agent — took charge, owned the end-to-end process and truly delivered on the customer request.

Lessons Learned

Perhaps you are thinking that the major lesson learned through all of this was not to move during a pandemic. And you might be right! However the specific lesson for those of us who are disciples of process improvement through automation is to never forget the critical role played by people in the people, process and technology dynamic.