A Roadmap to Digitalizing Utility Services

Tamla Olivier, Chief Customer Officer and Senior Vice President of Customer Operations, Baltimore Gas & Electric

Tamla Olivier, Chief Customer Officer and Senior Vice President of Customer Operations, Baltimore Gas & Electric

In 1816, The Gas Light Company of Baltimore lit its first gas lamps, becoming the nation’s first gas utility. The firm grew into Baltimore Gas and Electric – BGE.

Two basic imperatives of utilities – safety and reliability – are much the same as they were in 1816. Over the years, we have learned the importance of two other imperatives: customer and community service.

We know our products add value to the lives and livelihood of our customers. Our continued goal is to make sure our approach is equally effective for every customer segment, community, and stakeholder.

First, know your customers. BGE’s customers include every resident and business in Baltimore and adjoining communities. So, we work overtime to make sure we know what they have in common – and how their needs, preferences, and abilities diverge.

We elicit constant feedback from customers using surveys and focus groups. We break out data for residential customers and small, medium, and large businesses and industries. We further analyze the findings by zip code, age, gender, ethnicity, and other factors.

Long gone are the days when one size fits all. We must respond to the perspectives of Boomers and Zoomers, of those with different incomes, of urban and suburban customers, and among Maryland’s diverse cultures.

The roadmap to customer service. For the computer generations, paperless and phoneless are the way to go. Many customers expect to conduct all their business online. We also know that some customers don’t have access to computers or broadband, and others worry about the security of their online information.

It’s up to us to accommodate all these preferences and capabilities. That means providing a robust set of payment options, including online, phone, and mail choices. And while technology was a literal life-saver over the last year and a half, we worked to make sure customers who wanted to pay in person could do so safely.

A recent TV ad, “We can help,” reminded customers of their many bill payment options.

Field technicians and customer account representatives have the flexibility to tailor their customer interactions as necessary so that each customer receives an appropriate and compassionate solution.

Help when it’s needed. Although the pandemic highlighted the tightrope many Americans walk, we have long known that a certain percentage of customers need extra help. That’s why BGE has dedicated itself to creating solutions for customers’ long-term needs.

Like many utilities, we provide a variety of account management options, including convenient ways customers can catch up on overdue bills. And we support state and federal energy assistance programs.

But we’re also engaged in innovative programs to help people reduce their energy use as well as help them pay their bills.

We initiated the Critical Medical Needs Program to expedite bill-payment to help medically vulnerable households. The State of Maryland has since adopted CMND as a state wide program.

We work with state and local agencies to help people moving out of homelessness establish BGE accounts.

We actively participate in the Community Solar program to ensure low-income customers benefit from renewable power.

Our grant tracker notifies customers receiving aid about the status of their grants so they can plan effectively.

Testing, testing. During the lifetime of an account, customers interact with us in many different ways. To make sure that each interaction at each touchpoint goes smoothly, we put ourselves in our customers’ shoes. 

Employees from various departments walk through the processes any customer might use, step by step: from signing up for new service to experiencing an outage to requesting a service call. They look for the pain points: What are the technical glitches? Is the language confusing? Have we presented enough options?

If we identify a potential change, we solicit customer impact to confirm our ideas.

Taking care of ourselves and our customers. For our employees to do their best with customers, they must feel supported themselves. So, just as we do with customers, we solicit feedback from employees—about their jobs, their roles, and their well-being.

Year-round recognition programs and an annual awards event, plus education and training opportunities emphasize employees’ critical roles in developing and maintaining relationships with our customers.

And because of the many challenges facing customers today, all employees who interact with customers, whether from the office or the field participate in rigorous customer empathy training.

Less is more. Unlike most businesses, utilities encourage their customers to use less, not more, of their product. BGE’s Energy Savings Days ask customers to use less power on the hottest days—reducing their bills while preventing the need to invest in more power plants. And the company offers energy assessments and free home performance visits to advise customers on how to save energy.

Our products are essentially the same as they have been for years – power and natural gas. But now, customers have options that correspond to their budgets and their environmental commitment. For example, BGE supports electric cars and encourages customers to explore rooftop solar options. 

Giving back. As part of our community for more than 200 years, giving back is built into our corporate DNA. From helping neighbors light up their streets and parks to assisting non-profits with environmental programs, BGE is there for the communities we serve.

Last year, we began distributing $20,000 grants to small businesses as part of our continuing COVID relief actions. Most recipients are members of minority owned businesses and historically marginalized groups, and their businesses have a workforce with fewer than 10 full-time employees.

We are proud of our partnership with vocational and technical schools in Baltimore. Our experts work with teachers on curricula and learning tools. A summer intern program is often a gateway to permanent employment for high school graduates. Between 2016 -2020, BGE hosted approximately 180 students as part of our High School Internship Program. During this time, we’ve been able to offer approximately 15 former interns’ fulltime roles within our Fleet, Substation & Maintenance, and Overhead Lines departments.

Not a niche business.  Utilities don’t have the luxury of serving a targeted audience. They must ensure that every resident and business in their service area has access to safe, reliable, and affordable energy.

BGE is proud of its commitment to understanding its customers’ needs and values. We are equally proud of our record of designing ways to accommodate the rich and diverse demographic tapestry of the Baltimore area.

Weekly Brief

Top 10 Customer Experience Solution Companies - 2020
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A Roadmap to Digitalizing Utility Services

Tamla Olivier, Chief Customer Officer and Senior Vice President of Customer Operations, Baltimore Gas & Electric