This year, Tucson Electric Power (TEP) celebrates its 125th year of service. Like many older, established companies, change does not always come easily. However, customers expect their utility company experience to be comparable to those provided by other consumer-oriented services.

In order to provide a superior experience for our customers, our employees must work in unison to earn and keep our customers’ trust. We not only have to meet their needs; we have to anticipate their wants today and in the future. To do this, we must have the right people doing the right things at the right time. This creates a synergy that leads to operational excellence. It enables us to deliver low-cost, reliable electric and gas service, as well as to engage, educate and offer products and services that exceed our customers’ expectations.

At TEP and sister company UniSource Energy Services (UES), our People Strategy launched in 2013 with an organized workforce planning process. This process compelled us to develop a customer strategy: To be our customers’ first-choice energy partner and to improve the quality of life in our communities. We pledged to communicate with customers more effectively, give them more convenience and control, and make it easier for them to do business with us. Today, our customer strategy compels us to proactively seek feedback from our customers, and to respond accordingly.

The steps we’ve taken to implement this strategy include:

• Designating a customer advocate whom customers can contact when they have complaints or questions. Since this role was created, customer complaints to the Arizona Corporation Commission, our state regulator, have been reduced by 12 percent.
• Conducting surveys and creating focus groups with residential customers to obtain feedback about our service. We also use these groups and surveys to evaluate new products and services still in the testing phase, including a redesign of our monthly statements.
• Creating process maps that look at various touch-points from our customers’ point of view. This enabled our team to identify and eliminate inefficient, confusing and cumbersome aspects of doing business with us.
• Looking carefully at our relationships with large commercial customers to identify ways we could facilitate their growth, keep them informed and increase their satisfaction.
• Improving our process for communicating with commercial customers. Our key account managers are now tasked with keeping large commercial customers informed about events that affect their businesses. We also improved the accuracy of service time and duration estimates we provide to all customers using our interactive, online outage map.

Next, we plan to step up our efforts to communicate with customers about planned maintenance. As we improve and repair critical infrastructure, we are notifying customers early and keeping them informed of progress. Also, we are planning focus groups with our business customers to help us design a new commercial contact center we plan to open this summer.

1 TEP interview David Sanders TEP

We also began looking at ways to expand our customers’ choice and to improve communication. Toward this goal, over the past three years we have:

• Launched free mobile apps for Apple and Android devices to provide customers with an easy way to pay bills, receive notifications, review account information and engage with us on social media. The apps have been well received, were rapidly adopted and are now used by thousands of our residential customers for both information and bill payment.
• Redesigned our websites to be more customer friendly with streamlined navigation and improved responsiveness. A new content management system helps our communications staff make timely updates.
• Expanded our social media audience on multiple channels through strategic, engaging outreach. We now provide 24/7 response to customer questions on Facebook and Twitter.
• Added seasonal customer service representatives during our busiest seasons. As a result, we’ve reduced the average speed of answer in our call center by 65 percent.

Next, we’re planning to upgrade our interactive voice response system to offer improved and more-efficient telephonic options for reaching our customer service representatives. As mentioned above, we are redesigning our bill to make it easier to understand at a glance, with more information about usage history and alternative pricing-plan options. We also plan to make interval usage data available to customers on our websites and mobile apps. This will give customers the ability to better monitor their usage and make smart energy choices. We’re also developing a pilot program to provide customers an opportunity to pre-pay their bills and to choose their preferred payment due date.

1 TEP customer hug David Sanders TEP

TEP’s focus on people is driving innovation in system development and program design. Our intention is to develop and deploy a more-responsive digital network and other innovative services to satisfy our customers’ evolving energy needs. This includes:

• Exploring ways to partner with home builders to create more sustainable, energy-efficient communities. We’re seeking solutions that benefit all stakeholders — the home buyer, the builder, our company, regulatory agencies and the community.
• Identifying opportunities to help limited-income customers become more energy-efficient and reduce their energy consumption.
• Designing behind-the-meter initiatives that benefit the customer, the utility and the environment.

Our focus on people has produced spectacular results, both inside and outside our company. Today, TEP and UES are revitalized, healthy and growing companies with employees who are truly collaborative. We all work together toward our common goals, with our customers’ best interest always in mind.

1 TEP national guard check David Sanders TEP

Our success is evidenced by marked increases in our J.D. Power Customer Satisfaction Survey scores, and in 2016, the company achieved the highest score in its history. While our scores improved in all categories, we saw the largest point gains in customer service (particularly by phone), price, power quality and reliability, and billing and payment. Those gains were driven by significant improvements in the following J.D. Power categories:

• Promptness in speaking to a representative;
• Timeliness of resolving a problem, question or request;
• Efforts of the company to help manage monthly usage; and
• Keeping the customer informed about an outage.

The results are a testament to the hard work and focus of our dedicated employees. That said, we strive for continued improvement. The customer satisfaction scores achieved by other utilities are also increasing. We are aiming to be the best and continually benchmark ourselves against the scores of the best customer service organizations. We remain confident that our continued focus on our customers, and our desire to consistently exceed their expectations, will result in even higher customer satisfaction scores moving forward.

Before joining UNS Energy Corporation 10 years ago, I worked in the airline and manufacturing industries for 20 years. I have to say, the utility industry is by far the most complex I’ve experienced. Because of this, exceeding customer expectations is that much more satisfying. As we continue to innovate our business, the willingness of our customers to help us evolve and the energy our employees demonstrate is contagious. It is a great time to be working in our industry.

(All images by David Sanders, TEP.)