IVR Sparks Superior Customer Service and Savings for Electric Cooperative

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1 simplifying communication through CARES solution IVR Sparks Superior Customer Service and Savings for Electric Cooperative For more information: 200 Emerald Bay Drive, Suite 100, Oldsmar, FL Ph Larry Wallace Director Utility Markets Centurion, Inc

2 Why is my electric bill higher this month than last month, than a year ago? Smart answers via IVR self service. Talk to us to know more... Introduction An electric cooperative is a type of electric utility that is owned by the members it serves. Its profits or margins are put back into the cooperative to help run the business efficiently, or are returned to the customer-owner. A co-op exists solely to provide high-quality service at the lowest possible price for its customer-owners. Maintaining reliable electric service at affordable rates is the cornerstone of the nation's 900-plus electric cooperative utilities. With increasing energy costs, that goal is becoming more challenging. This white paper examines how utility cooperatives can safeguard the interests of members by combining call center communication components into one unified system to cut costs while improving customer service quality. Trend: More utilities offering IVR technology as consumers increasingly embrace self-service options Interactive voice response (IVR) has been around since the 1962 Seattle World s Fair. Early IVR systems arrived in call centers in the 1970s, but it wasn t until the late 1990s that IVR became widely used for intelligent call routing and automated response management. IVR units have become increasingly commonplace within utilities as self-service options, according to Chartwell, Inc. In their recent report, IVRs and Speech Recognition 2012, the Atlanta-based information provider attributes the continued growth of IVRs to cost, efficiency and customer care benefits. IVRs communicate with callers through menus and prompts and support touch tone or speech recognition responses from each caller. IVR containment rates within utility contact centers keep rising, as more customers become comfortable with automated functionality when transacting with service providers. And, even though it may not be the preferred way to communicate, customer satisfaction for utilities that use it well is higher than customer satisfaction for utilities that do not offer this option. Some of the more common services offered by utility IVRs include the ability to check account balances, make payments and report outages all without the need to speak with a customer service representative. In these cases, customers often can solve their own problems faster than an agent can.

3 The Ascent Group recently studied call centers and asked those who participated their history of IVR implementation, deployment and design strategies, performance statistics, best practices and lessons learned. The top five IVR challenges noted by the participants in the study are: 1) Increasing customer acceptance and usage was noted by about 25% of the participants. 2) Technology issues and limitations were mentioned about 23% of the time. 3) Good script and menu design was mentioned about 20% of the time. 4) Systems integration was mentioned about 15% of the time. 5) Customer education was mentioned about 12% of the time. Challenge: Align IVR technology to service strategy Properly deployed, IVR technology can help utility cooperatives successfully manage larger call volumes, improve customer service, reduce costs and project a professional business image. However, it s important to prioritize and work through these goals before development to ensure the technology is aligned to meet the utility s strategy. Solution: Flexible, feature-rich self-service solution improves customer satisfaction and the bottom line According to experts at the American Public Power Association conference, customers want self-service options, but current systems are too burdensome. The key is in choosing an IVR solution that is goal oriented, which in turn will make it widely accepted by consumers. Many customers are grateful for the clarity, simplicity, reduced risk of miscommunication, and dependability that come with an effective IVR system. The information they are calling for is presented to them in a clear and orderly manner that actually helps illuminate their options and choices -- and always with an easy option to talk to a human representative. While there are many IVR systems currently available, not all of them are tailored specifically to the needs of utilities. A system that is utility-specific will feature message scripting tools and call-handling logic that is driven by the needs of utility customers. Consumers today lack the time and patience to handle a self-service application that isn t intuitive. Typically, a user wants to get in, conduct business quickly and get out. A poorly designed application is a common and well-documented source of consumer frustration. Utilities should look for a solution that can adapt to legacy platforms and in-house telephony, and can offer integration, versatility, modularity and a unique set of benefits like: Cost effectiveness Ownership Portability Single point of contact for interface upgrade and support More efficient interconnection with back-office applications One connection for multiple channels High redundancy

4 Utility cooperative members at Flint Energies embrace IVR from Centurion, Inc. Incorporated in 1937, Georgia s Flint Energies holds the distinction of being the 36 th largest rural electric cooperative in the United States. Today Flint Energies has 240 employees, $189 million in revenues and provides electricity to 85,000 members in 17 counties in central Georgia. As a not-for-profit, member-owned electric cooperative, Flint Energies strives to exceed member expectations for reliable electric service and provide great value. In an effort to provide the best possible service for the least possible cost to its members, Flint s service goal is to use automation as much as possible to answer member inquiries. To help achieve this goal, the utility turned to CTI provider Centurion, Inc. Centurion specializes in creating plug-and-play telephony systems known for their versatile, modular and affordable applications that can connect to any standard telephony technology used by utilities for customer service. Back in 1999, Flint Energies ran Centurion s IVR software on an Avaya IR platform. This allowed members to self serve a variety of their own needs 7 days a week/ 24 hours a day. A decade later and the Avaya IR was failing and unable to be fully restored, so Flint once again turned to Centurion. The utility now utilizes Centurion IVR hardware and software to support their members for billing inquiry, bill payment, payment profiles, payment arrangements, outbound notification of overdue bills with option to pay using a credit card and more. The Centurion system ties into Flint s billing system, which is supplied by SEDC, Southeast Data Cooperative. Utility cooperative consumers embrace self-service: More Flint Energies members use IVR than live-agent service Updating to the new IVR system allowed Flint Energies to offer members self-service access to a bill analysis application from Apogee Interactive, Inc. Apogee s BillingInsights provides an automated explanation of consumer s bills answering why they may have changed from month-to-month, or year-to-year, through sophisticated analysis involving billing data, meter-read dates and coincident weather. By presenting BillingInsights through the IVR, members can hear a voice message explaining the differences in their bill amounts and offering suggestions for why it may have changed and tips on how to lower them. In addition, Interactive Text Response, or ITR, is also available and allows members to receive this information via a text message. Flint Energies Senior Vice President Jimmy Autry is optimistic about the cost implications IVR and ITR hold for handling billing questions. The beauty of IVR and ITR as a means of explaining high bills is that it weeds out those calls that can best be answered through self-service technologies as opposed to requiring customer service representative assistance, which can run up to $50 per call, explained Autry at the Connect 12 Conference in New Orleans. Apogee President & CEO Susan Gilbert agrees with Autry. Customers want quick answers and have come to expect them to be available 24/7, and increasingly, they aren t talking at all -- they re texting. This service benefit of ITR is huge by itself, but when you combine that with the enormous savings potential of freeing up service representative time, you have a game-changer for utilities striving to make the most of every dollar. When a member calls into the IVR with a bill inquiry, the IVR reads back to the customer the amount due. The IVR then will ask if the caller wishes to know why the bill is different from last month or last year. If the customer selects to hear why the bill is different, the IVR links to and provides the account information to Apogee. The Apogee application looks up the environmental conditions, from a month ago or a year ago, for where the caller lives and provides an html page of text back to the IVR. The IVR reads back the text to the caller using text to speech.

5 The application went live in July During the month of August, Flint Energies had 134 callers hear why their bills were different. Flint Energies member service team includes nine full-time representatives and 14 more who can help out if volume demands. An average of 20,000 calls are answered live each month. Even more calls are answered by the utilities IVR system. For all of 2012, more Flint Energies members chose to use the IVR self-service options rather than to speak with a member care representative. Flint Energies reached its service goal of moving as many member calls to automation as possible to better serve and to save money for the cooperative.

6 The Centurion ADVANTAGE While there may not be a one size fits all technology solution for member contact centers seeking a fully integrated approach to saving both time and money, some critical factors that should be considered are: Flexibility -- Having multiple contact points means upgrades made in response to changing customer preferences can be completed at a lower cost and without major operational interruptions. Ease of use -- The more intuitive the application, the more likely it is that the customer will simply choose to help themselves, saving time and money for the contact center. Maintenance and Support -- Ensuring that the quality and integrity of the system will not be compromised over time is a major benefit of contact centers with limited IT support. About Centurion Founded in 1981, Centurion, Inc. is a systems integrator with a suite of products that include: Industry Specific off the Shelf Interactive Voice Response (IVR) custom-designed Interactive Voice Response (IVR), Contact Center Software, CRM, Screen Pop and Dialers. Centurion s extensive client base and vast industry knowledge is due to our 31 years of effort in our given markets: Government, Healthcare, Financial, Energy, as well as Fortune 1000 and SMB Centurion solutions are developed to automate an organization s communication process with its customers. By automating customer communications in place of manual processes Centurion helps our clients increase efficiency, reduce costs improve interaction and increase profit. For more information please visit our website. We are at your service. Visit or for additional information Centurion, Inc. Contact Us Larry Wallace Director Utility Markets Centurion, Inc Emerald Bay Drive Suite 100 Oldsmar, FL 34677

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