Spire Combines Two Systems into One Convenient Customer Care Portal
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- Aug 7, 2019 11:14 pm GMT
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Spire was recently named a finalist for an Expanding Excellence Award in the Innovation in Digital Customer Engagement category by CS Week. The project recognized by CS Week was an effort to bring all customers served by Spire in multiple states into one branded portal. The need for this project stemmed from inconsistencies in customer care resulting from Spire acquiring gas utilities in various locations over a period of several years. Care representatives recognized that they were unable to provide great customer service in this situation and that they needed to enable customers to access consistent care via omnichannel delivery.
The Customer Connect team was tasked with making this vision a reality. This team consisted of business process, IT, and security components, as well as a core group that provided support and guidance.
Multiple States, One Interface
Spire had a presence in Missouri and Alabama; yet, the customer experience differed considerably between the two. Deborah Banks, Customer Experience Leader at Spire explains, “The functionality and options offered in Alabama were more robust than in Missouri. Our goal was to provide an effortless experience for all our users with a single platform.” But creating one platform for two sets of billing systems, workload routing systems, payment processors, bill image storage systems, and regulatory requirements was no simple task.
The new My Account platform, available in both PC and mobile formats, resolves this issue by detecting which state a customer is from no matter how they interact with it. “But,” says Banks, “the process is seamless to the customer. The system doesn’t ask where they’re served; instead, it pulls that information from their account and the appropriate billing system. If someone happens to have service in two states, they can manage both accounts from the same login. From our end, it’s a complex system, but we wanted to make it easy for users.”
A Multi-phase Approach
Phase I of the project ensured that Spire provided the same options — including account management, bill payment, order scheduling, bill viewing, and usage viewing — to all customers in Missouri and Alabama. In phase II, Spire added the ability for customers to start and transfer service on their own. Banks, who served in leadership roles for both phases, says, “These two processes are the most complex we implemented for customers, involving collecting basic information, validating their identity, and making sure there’s a meter already installed at their location. So, it was another challenge to get it into a simple format that customers could complete on their own. We ended up condensing the process from over 20 manual steps performed by Spire representatives to 4 steps performed by customers. Now people can easily do it on their own when it’s convenient for them.”
Over 780,000 customers have registered for the My Account service in both Missouri and Alabama. Banks states, “The adoption has surpassed our expectations and we have more people using our online portal than our legacy portals reached.” Additionally, the number of paperless billing, AutoPay, and text alert enrollments, as well as order scheduling have all increased.
Agents Benefit Too
Though the My Account portal is designed for customers, agents have access to it as well, which streamlines complex processes and reduces errors and training time. Agents now have greater confidence in what they’re communicating to customers, and the platform is easy for them to use. If callers have questions about the portal itself, agents can walk them through the process they’re trying to achieve step-by-step. Additionally, because the portal is so user-friendly, agents required little time to learn how to use it. Banks says, “All agent training on the new automated processes was completed in one hour of classroom time followed by 30 minutes of hands-on use.”
The Value of Teamwork
While customers, agents, and the company have gained from the features made possible by this project, all parties also benefitted unexpectedly from the way it was completed. Customer Connect team members were carefully selected to devote 100 percent of their time and attention to the project over a 17-month timeframe. Banks says the team had a “great” project manager who — despite the complexities of the project — helped them stay on track and complete the project on time and within budget.
Additionally, “The team overcame so many challenges and accomplished so much that the teamwork demonstrated throughout this project transformed the way our other teams operate and the way we serve our customers.” Some of the challenges team members faced included working across state lines with colleagues they didn’t know, and with systems and processes that were new or unfamiliar. To build relationships, the group had an initial meeting that involved teambuilding exercises, followed by monthly in-person dinner meetings to continue to connect. Day-to-day collaboration took place via email and phone and was a key to understanding each other and building relationships.
Banks recalls, “To build on those initial teambuilding exercises, we had to make an effort to understand each other’s processes and terminology. We had to break down barriers and differences to come together to serve all our customers. As a result, we developed solid working relationships and friendships that led to our success.”
What improvements have you made to your customer care portal? Please share in the comments.