RE: customer relationship management system
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Improving Customer Relations Management in Utilities Through the Use of the Internet
The success of any business depends on customer satisfaction. This is particularly true in today’s competitive, deregulated electric utility environment. Since customers have many service choices, the electric utility that better serves its customers will be the electric utility that better retains its customers.
Customer service and customer satisfaction are no longer the sole responsibility of a single department. Managing customer relations is a function of every employee at a customer-centric utility. In order to successfully and consistently manage customer relations, accurate and timely information must be available to every employee in the enterprise. What better media for disseminating information enterprise-wide than the corporate intranet or the Internet.
This paper presents how Internet-based applications can be used to improve customer relations within the electric utility business. Emphasis will be placed on geospatially-enhanced customer relations management (CRM) systems.
Introduction to Customer Relations Management Systems
The electric utility business has always been a service-oriented industry, but in a deregulated market, maintaining customer loyalty and satisfaction has become critical. As the focus shifts to a more customer-centric environment, new technologies must be introduced to keep pace1. Communication technologies must deliver and distribute critical information in a timely fashion. The Internet has emerged as a viable business tool for internal and customer-facing communications.
A customer relations management system can be defined in a variety of ways, but typically it is a system that automates some portion of the front-office customer communication channel to the back-office operational applications. The best-of-breed CRM systems integrate the back- and front-office applications. The ultimate goal is a holistic integration of all corporate information technologies, including all systems that handle company’s interactions with customers (billing, customer service, field service, and marketing systems) as well operational support systems (outage management, work order management, customer information, spatial information, and network management information systems). The integration of front-office customer contact systems and back-office operational support systems has its own term: "Enterprise Relationship Management".
The key to understanding and managing customer relations is the proper integration of a wide variety of data sources. For an electric utility, a successful CRM integration strategy would include not only the traditional CRM systems, such as customer information, bill processing, call center technology, and marketing systems, but would also include facility management, work management, and outage management systems. The definition of a utility CRM system is based on a large continuum of requirements, such as2:
To be able to quickly access integrated customer, outage, facility, and service request/complaint data from numerous legacy systems.
To display a geospatial snapshot of customer service related data out, with quick identification of critical care and key commercial customers.
To Closely monitor outage data for day-to-day operations as well as emergency situations.
To track customer complaints and resolution status, including information on complaints that escalate to PUC status.
To track performance on meeting commitment dates for new service, meter-reading, service turn-ons/turn-offs, equipment testing, and other customer appointments.
To monitor "customer-call" metrics, including average number of seconds required to answer incoming calls, percentage of customers who get a busy signal, etc.
To report safety metrics, including the number of lost-time accidents and durations of the resulting lost time.
In summary, an electric utility’s CRM system needs to be able to provide industry-specific reporting capabilities that keep the organization informed, responsive, and customer-focused.
To accomplish this, an electric utility’s CRM system needs to integrate much critical information into one system. As described above, the key to a successful CRM system is integrating back-office operational support systems with customer-facing front-office applications. Clearly, at a minimum, the system must be able to link together standard customer information, such as account information and billing information, with other types of information. But for an electric utility, it is also desirable to link outage information and customer complaints/inquiries (both present and historical), and customer information to work orders and open jobs. Integrating this information and displaying it on the desktop in a geospatial format would be even more valuable to an electric utility.
The Thin Client Paradigm
As web-based technologies have matured and their usage has grown exponentially, an information technology paradigm shift has occurred. Web-enabled systems provide the potential for an increased number of users, which implies a more widespread use of information. These systems also promise reduced costs by decreasing the time to develop, deploy, and maintain web-based applications. Web-based systems, by their very nature, are client/server architectures, but unlike the traditional client/server system, they can support a large array of client platforms with minimum amount of software loaded on the client. This is the "thin client" concept.
The traditional client/server architecture (sometimes referred to as "fat client") is a distributed computing architecture. This type of application optimizes the distribution of computing resources by having the developer of the system determine how the computing resources are to be utilized. Client/server applications are designed to make optimal use of the computing power of the clients. The requirement of client-side software provides the client enhanced functionality, and user interfaces, as well as improved performance for operations that take place locally on the client.
A good example where traditional client/server applications have had a significant performance impact is with geographical information systems3. With a client/server AM/FM/GIS application, the server stores all graphical information and the client requests a particular set of vector graphic data, such as a facility map, from the server. Once the client side receives the set of vector graphics, all processing takes place via the client side software. Client side resources handle manipulations such as zooming and panning, reducing or removing the need to retransmit requests/data back and forth to the server.
The drawbacks of fat client architecture include increased costs since software requirements are needed on both the client and server machines. Fat client applications are also typically not client platform independent. To make the applications client platform independent requires either specific communication protocols between platform-to-platform or redeveloping the client software for hardware/operating system architectures or both; substantially increasing the costs to make them platform independent.