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Automation is one way to manage walk-in traffic, speaker tells B&F


From the September 26, 2013 issue of Public Power Daily

Originally published September 26, 2013

By Laura D'Alessandro
Integrated Media Editor

At many public power utilities, "in-person" remains a favorite method for customers to pay their bills. But it is an aspect of customer service that needs to be managed, whether the utility takes measures to discourage in-person payments or make them easier, speakers said Sept. 23 at APPA’s annual Business and Financial Conference in Orlando, Fla.

At Lafayette Utilities System in Lafayette, La., about 15,000 of the utility's 65,000 electricity customers regularly pay in person, said Andrew Duhon, customer and support services manager. "We don’t exactly discourage it," Duhon said. While LUS has two payment centers, most of the in-person payments are made at one: City Hall. The area around City Hall gets congested as a result, but that doesn’t seem to deter customers.

"We’re right along the downtown area," Duhon said. "There’s some drive-through traffic that just comes through. Many pay by money order. They don’t have checking accounts. There’s a store across the street where you can get money orders, and a bus stops at City Hall."

Jef Gray tells an audience at APPA's B&F Conference about how KUA decided to create its own app so customers can check on wait times for in-person payments. Photo courtesy of KUA

Thus, most people who pay in person appear to do so for social or cultural reasons. Jef Gray, vice president of information technology at Kissimmee Utility Authority in Kissimmee, Fla., said this is true in Kissimmee. Most of the utility’s customers are Spanish-speaking and many of them are what Gray called "un-banked." They therefore pay only in cash.

Gray said he became interested in making those interactions more efficient through automation. He was passing through the utility’s lobby when he noticed customer service representatives signing in customers using a paper log. The log was later entered into a spreadsheet. Gray saw the opportunity to make metrics from the spreadsheet available in real time and not just for service representatives. As a result, KUA created in-house its own app that allows customers to see wait times in the office and on the call-in line from anywhere, anytime.

"When we started the app, it was sort of a first step," Gray said. "We wanted to combine it with the e-bill, but it’s going to take a while to get that done. We want to get it all in one place. The whole purpose of the app was to get customers to look at the wait time before they come in and perhaps choose to call instead. They can do everything over the phone and 30,000 customers a month are using that."

KUA employs part-time, work-from-home representatives who make up a remote call center that is open from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily. Additionally, nine full-time employees staff the customer service desks in the KUA office.

When looking to get the app in place, Gray said, KUA searched for something already available and couldn’t find anything, which is why his developers built it in-house. Gray said KUA is considering service contracts with other utilities to share the technology.

Duhon and Gray discussed their presentations in a brief video for Public Power TV.

 

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