Enmax powers up customer relationship program

As public utilities of every stripe gird themselves for competition, one Alberta electricity provider is betting that its customer relationship management program will help it protect its valuable turf....

As public utilities of every stripe gird themselves for competition, one Alberta electricity provider is betting that its customer relationship management program will help it protect its valuable turf.

Enmax Energy Corporation, electricity provider for the city of Calgary, believes a well-executed CRM strategy is an absolute necessity for staying in business in a competitive utilities market – and has wasted no time rolling out its own program.

‘With deregulation happening Jan. 1, 2001, it became abundantly clear that we couldn’t wait to figure things out,’ says Rick Larson, who joined Enmax 18 months ago as director of customer management and sales. ‘We had to get it done.’

While more and more companies are implementing CRM solutions, Larson says Enmax is one of the first in its market segment to do so. The company currently has about 400,000 customers in Alberta – the majority in Calgary – with residential customers accounting for 91% of its customer base. Enmax is not only hoping to maintain its business, but wants to expand throughout the province and beyond, once the Canadian market as a whole is deregulated.

Fourteen months ago, the company began phasing in the tactical elements of its customer management strategy. These included the launch of both an intranet and Internet presence, two new billing systems for mass market and commercial customers, and the formation of a management group dedicated to ensuring the company stayed focused on customer needs – not a natural proclivity for any public utility.

Enmax partnered with Bellevue, Wash.-based Onyx Software to implement a CRM solution that would allow Enmax to share customer information across its departments, analyze the overall health of its business and build greater customer loyalty.

For consumers, the most apparent outcome of Enmax’s CRM strategy, Larson says, will be the increased ease with which customers can communicate with the utility. Not only will customers be given the option of using self-help features on the Web site, and paying their bills electronically, he says, but they’ll find dealing with the utility less frustrating, since billing and product history records will be available to customer service agents across all contact channels – whether by phone, the Internet or in person.

‘We had to make sure the staff understands that customers will have a choice, every day, of who to do business with, and that with every interaction, every touch point, there’s a chance for them to choose someone else,’ Larson says. ‘It’s incredibly important for us to have the technology to be fiercely competitive and to use the implementation of those tools to change the culture of the company to be customer-centric.’

Ironically, a recent customer satisfaction survey by Enmax revealed that customers, themselves, don’t rate the quality of the service they’re provided as a high priority.

‘That frightened us a little,’ Larson says, ‘but in the end, the one thing about our market space is that when people deal with a regulated utility, or what used to be a regulated utility, the service expectations are way down. Our job will be to re-educate our customers.’