Kathy Kathy Kerr, Vice President-Customer Services, New Jersey Natural Gas Company (NJNG) shares her insights on the evolution of self-service and today’s society.
[Argyle Executive Forum]What does the evolution of self-service mean to you?
[Kathy Kerr] Years ago businesses implemented self –service (initially touch tone recordings) for efficiency and cost savings and in many cases drove customers to use these self-service options. While many customers still prefer interacting with a person, and should be able to use that channel if that is their preference, there are many customers who don’t want to speak to anyone. They only want to conduct business at their convenience using any one of many self-service channels. In some businesses and industries, the customers are actually now ‘pulling’ the businesses to the self- service options, driving the businesses to ensure that the easy-to-do-business, self- service channels are available.
What is the contact center’s role in this new environment?
The contact center is dynamic; handling calls, emails, chat and social media. Customer expectations include shorter response times. While calls will often be the preferred channel for more complicated questions and issues, email and chat are quickly becoming the preferred or alternative channels. The effectiveness of each channel varies both among industries and type of inquiry. For example, some utilities have implemented chat but may not be seeing the expected level of customer utilization.
How has social media and new communication devices changed the way consumers behave?
The ‘touch points’ are now timeless and endless. Whereas business offices, business hours, service interactions and publications used to be the primary trigger for positive or negative customer reaction, customers are ‘on’ all the time with the evolution of smart phones and social media. What used to be one-to-one communication is now one-to-many. While the average person might not have included their local utility in the first five ‘pages’ they ‘liked’ or ‘followed’, utilities are in fact engaging customers with proactive messages using social media. In doing so it is possible for a company to establish an ‘emotional bank account’ with their customers. Customers seeing the positive initiatives and communication relative to safety, commitment to the community, and environmental efforts, may just be a little forgiving in times of storms or crisis. It is; however, imperative during such times that the utility keep customers informed of conditions and status updates, using social media AND other channels.
How important is it to make sure the front line is prepared in today’s society?
Customer have so many choices and channels available to them, not only do they expect that the front line is prepared to be knowledgeable and efficient regarding their inquiry or service request, they increasingly have an expectation that the front line already knows who the customer is and information about their previous business interactions and preferences.
Efficient front line customer service may have been a competitive advantage at one time, but it is now considered a requirement to be in business.
That said, engaging the front line to ensure excellent service delivery every time does not come without challenge and requires constant focus and innovation.
What are important things to consider when building partnerships?
True partnerships are based on an effort to achieve a positive outcome for all involved. While it takes time early on in the process, it is absolutely imperative that there is a clear understanding, on the part of each organization/ person involved, of the specific actions, responsibilities, and milestones required for the partnership to be successful. Having implemented different technology improvements with different companies, the most success we’ve had has been in partnerships where we reviewed as many details as possible up front. It can be painstaking, but it will make a difference throughout the project. It means all parties and stakeholders involved shares possible gaps, scenarios, issues, and keys and metrics to success, etc.
Where do you see the most growth potential within the ever-changing customer care industry?
The most growth potential lies in the ways that businesses obtain analyze and effectively use information to achieve a positive customer relationship for each customer. The challenge comes with achieving the right balance; some customers expect that you have all the information about their preferences, products and services. However in today’s world, there are also customers who are concerned with how information about them has been obtained, or will be used and shared. The shift toward acceptance of using information to better anticipate customer needs and deliver products and services to them will continue to grow
Kathy F. Kerr joined New Jersey Natural Gas Company (NJNG) in January 2005 and is presently Vice President – Customer Services; overseeing the meter-to-cash processes and Customer Satisfaction. She is a member of the Benefits Administration Committee and the Executive Safety Committee at NJNG. Kathy also chairs the Customer Service Committee of the NJ Utilities Association.
Before joining NJNG, Kathy was Director of Customer Services at Public Service Electric and Gas (PSE&G) where she worked for 19 years during which she held various leadership positions in Customer Services. She holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Villanova University and attended the Harvard Business School Program for Management Development. She resides in Howell, NJ with her two daughters.