Another version of this article appears in CS Week Newsline, Winter 2018 Edition.

It’s hard to believe, but here we are again, on the cusp of winter. While a few parts of the country enjoy seemingly perpetual warmth, for most of us the temperatures are dipping below freezing. The first frosts are long forgotten, the snow is falling, and families will soon gather for exchanging gifts and enjoying each other’s company.

 At this time of year, it’s a utility’s responsibility to keep its customers snug and warm. But exceptional service is more than ensuring the lights stay on, the furnaces lit, and the water flowing. Customers today also expect utilities to make it easier, more transparent and more convenient to deal with their providers on a daily basis. And in a connected world, they expect the experience to be just as refined and personal as what they receive from other non-utility services.

They want information and service options at their fingertips, on any device and at any time and place they choose. They want a variety of self-service options, including electronic statements, payment options, and making service requests. And they want to explore special programs that feel as though they’re tailored just for them. Providing all this is like giving them a gift they’ve always wanted.

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Of course, with an aging customer information system (CIS), you can’t offer customers such a gift this holiday season. And with all internal inefficiencies, manual processes, and rising maintenance costs, you can’t gift your staff a better working experience, either.

But we know upgrading to a new CIS can be a costly investment, one with a dubious return on investment without careful consideration. After all, a CIS isn’t something you replace every other year, like buying a new pair of socks for everyone on your gift list. It’s a decision you want to be comfortable with for the next fifteen years, or even longer.

 So as 2018 makes way for 2019, let’s consider the true ROI of a fully hosted and managed CIS like VertexOne—and why it’s truly a gift that keeps on giving, not only to your customers and your team, but to your bottom line.

Give your customers the web and mobile features they’re demanding

In an era of online shopping and on-demand entertainment, today’s customers insist on a rich online experience, even from their utility providers. They expect the ability to call up information about their accounts, monitor their usage, review their bills and make payments—not to mention opening service requests—from anywhere and at any time, without having to visit or even speak to a care representative.

Trying to “bolt on” some of these features to your legacy CIS is more than a technical challenge. It’s a budget sinkhole. And when you’re done, the result is shaky and feels disjointed to users—mainly because it is.

A modern CIS delivers these customer self-service features right off the bat, giving them the in-control experience they want. And it doesn’t require continuous custom upgrades that utility companies can’t afford or justify. Who would look that gift-horse in the mouth?

Utilize existing staff more efficiently and cost effectively 

Your customers won’t be the only ones happier with your gift of mobile and self-service options. Your staff will be, too. With customers handling more issues and requests themselves, your staff has fewer phone and walk-in support cases. That leaves them free to focus on cases that really need hands-on attention.

While that’s great for reducing staff workloads and boosting morale, it can reduce support costs, too. For one thing, you won’t need to increase call center or lobby staff as your customer base grows. In fact, you may even be able to reallocate existing staff to more involved customer service tasks. For example, one of our water customers reported the VertexOne web and mobile self-service solution reduced call and walk-in wait times by over 15,000 transactions per month—even though its customer base was steadily rising. Not only did this reduce overtime expenses, but the utility was able to reallocate those CSRs to help assist field-service reps do their jobs more efficiently.

Reduce costs associated with both aging infrastructure and an aging workforce

There’s more than just outdated infrastructure and legacy apps facing you and your budget. Utilities typically keep a CIS for fifteen or more years, and in that time, technology marches on. That means it’s quite possible your CIS was not only written to use specific older hardware but also in a programming language that’s no longer “in vogue.” Some were written in—believe it or not—COBOL or even assembly language. 

But your workforce is aging, too, and with them, the skills to maintain that old system. Utility employees are a loyal bunch, but like everyone, they’ll eventually retire. As they do, the skills and know-how you need become scarcer and harder to find. So, when you do need to maintain or update the code, you’ll pay a premium to bring someone on board who can do the job—if you can find them at all. A modern CIS built on a state-of-the-art platform eliminates this scarcity and its related costs.

Yet more ways your new CIS provides ROI for years to come

These are just a few ways a new fully hosted and managed CIS like VertexOne can provide a positive return on your technology investment. Providing web and mobile conveniences will make your customers happier, but it also saves you the headache and expense of trying to force these features into your old CIS. A managed CIS reduces the cost of physical infrastructure, but also solves the workforce and skills scarcities associated with maintaining an aging infrastructure. And it can help you use the staff you do have to serve your customers more effectively.

But I’ve just gotten started. Next week I’ll dive into even more reasons a new CIS is truly a gift that will keep on giving in 2019 and beyond—for your utility, your staff, and your customers.


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