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Lessons in Customer Service from the Utility Company – NOT

Billy Marshall
February 15, 2017

It is fortunate for the utility companies that they are protected by high walls of regulation that prevent new entrants from competing with them.  I had to call customer service at Duke Power yesterday because I need to change the service at a location where I am now the personal representative of the owner.  I assumed there would be a process to demonstrate to them my power of attorney, so I was not expecting it to be as simple as checking a box on a website.  What I did not expect was a flashback to the mid-1980s.

When I reached the supervisor who could actually give me some instructions, she told me that I needed to fax the notarized power of attorney to their legal department.  I replied that I did not have a fax so could she please just supply me with an email address.  I have a nifty little app on my phone called CamScanner, and I can quickly shoot a scanned copy to legal.  She repeated the fax number and said that I could mail it to them via the postal service if I did not have access to a fax.  I asked her to hold the line for one moment while I picked up another call.

“It’s the ’80s calling,” I told her.  “They want their customer experience back.”  She repeated the fax number for me, and we said our goodbyes.

Don’t be like the utility companies.  Take every opportunity to streamline the customer experience with your brand so that the customer is endeared to your company and never plots to leave for a competitor.  After I hung up with Duke, I told Shawn, our marketing director, that the next house I build will absolutely be off the grid.  I cannot wait to write Elon Musk checks for my Powerwall and my solar installation in addition to the check that I am willing to write for a small diesel generator.  I want to get rid of Duke at the first opportunity I can because they suck.

Now, you might think this is a crazy response to having to deal with a fax machine.  I can assure that the generation that is behind me (I am pushing 50) feels the same way and more so.  If you want to keep your customers for the next 10 – 20 years, don’t be like Duke.  As often as you can, do away with old, archaic approaches to customer service and replace them with conveniences that make the customer appreciate the thoughtfulness of your brand.  Here are a couple of pro tips:

  1. Be Mobile Friendly – everyone wants to engage from their smartphone, so let them.
  1. Maximize Self Service – no one really wants to talk to anyone in your office, so don’t make them.
  1. Take a Long View – expensive, disruptive repairs that might make a good margin for you are not good for the customer.  Find ways to charge maintenance subscription fees that smooth your revenue while minimizing customer pain from surprises.
  1. Sell the Program – emphasize to everyone that your brand is all about technology enabled conveniences.  They will remember that pitch when they encounter the stupidity of a vendor (like Duke) that doesn’t get it.

Don’t be the utility company.  You do not have the regulatory protections and you don’t want a reputation built upon 1980’s customer service.

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