Mike Strohl is Senior Vice President and Chief Customer Officer for Citizens Energy Group, an Indiana-based utilities company providing natural gas, thermal energy, water, and wastewater services to about 800,000 people and thousands of businesses in the Indianapolis area.
We recently sat down with Mike to discuss how customer experience is helping Citizens Energy achieve its goals tied to the company’s four key pillars: customer satisfaction, employee satisfaction, operating performance, and financial performance. He also explains some of the unique challenges utility companies face, and how ForeSee is helping Citizen Energy overcome them.
And to hear more about how Citizens Energy Group is a best-in-class VOC Leader, watch our interview with Mike via the video below.
Q&A with Citizens Energy Group’s Mike Strohl:
Why is it important for Citizens Energy to measure customer experience?
It’s the fabric of who we are. Most people don’t correlate customer satisfaction with utility companies. We’re a natural monopoly so we’re going to get every customer in our territory, we don’t have to compete for our customers.
So the natural question is: Why would you be interested in customer satisfaction. For us, we think it’s a moral imperative because we provide a service that is necessary for customers to live, whether it be heat, electricity, or water consumption. We feel that’s more of an imperative for us to deliver a higher level of customer satisfaction than if we were just competing for sales.
How do you make sure you capture, measure, and improve the entire customer experience whenever customers interact with the Citizen Energy brand?
With ForeSee, we’re currently measuring the contact center, customer relationship management, and web authentication survey…[we’re] really drilling down on those three channels, but I think we’ve got room to evolve in the other channels as well.
What’s important for us right now is, at each of those touch points, [is knowing] what are customers telling us? We’re trying to dive into deep insight because we know we’re going to get those customers regardless, so it’s important for us to keep them satisfied. What we’re looking for are nuances — what are those things on the margin that help us drive a high level of customer engagement and customer loyalty.
What are the biggest issues that your industry faces that CX Intelligence can help solve?
The utility industry is a little unique in that customers don’t generally call or interact with utility companies because they’re satisfied with the product. Generally, if someone is contacting their utility company it’s because there’s been a problem. It’s a product that’s behind the scenes, you use it every day and it becomes a fabric of your life, so it’s not something that you ordinarily think about.
The challenge for utility companies is: how do you drive higher levels of customer satisfaction for what is a relatively mundane, but necessary, product — particularly in light of the rising rate environment we find ourselves in.
Could you please talk about any specific results or outcomes that ForeSee has helped your organization with?
At Citizens Energy I can think of a specific initiative that ForeSee has helped us identify that’s leading to increasing levels of customer satisfaction.
Specifically, we know that a customer who is enrolled in three programs with us — electronic billing, automatic bank draft, and the budget plan (which smooths payments out over a 12 month process) — is significantly more satisfied than a customer who isn’t.
What ForeSee has helped us see is that there is a direct link between customers enrolled in only one (or two) of those programs and satisfaction. If they’re more likely to be enrolled in all three programs, we target market those customers. We have initiated a targeted marketing campaign [for this customer segment], and in the past five months we’ve seen an increase in enrollment for electronic billing by 17%, which we know will lead to higher levels of customer satisfaction.
How do you prove the business impacts of your VOC program to your executive audience?
How do executives see the value in customer improvement and customer experience? I go back to what our original mission is: It’s a moral imperative for us to deliver a higher level of customer satisfaction or customer loyalty because we’re a monopoly.
Monopolies can view their business in one of two ways, I’ve got all the business, so I don’t need to provide a higher level of satisfaction. Or, customers don’t have a choice and I have all the business, therefore I have to deliver a higher level of satisfaction. Our executive team believes in the latter approach, and we focus on how to drive customer loyalty through the organization, knowing ultimately that that leads to success in the regulatory arena as well as for us. (For utility companies, success in the regulatory arena is equivalent to top line sales growth for other companies.)
[Customer experience ] is important to all of us — from our CEO down to our board of directors. I report routinely to our board on customer satisfaction results, as well as what we’re doing with ForeSee.