For February, we continue The Faces of Vertex with Bill Mareburger, a senior solution architect with our web and mobile development team in Dallas, Texas. I spoke with Bill last week about Vertex’s long history in web and mobile, and how that expertise helps utilities meet customers’ increasing demands for utility self-service.

PAM: Bill, you’ve been with Vertex for almost 24 years. Describe what it’s like being a solution architect for web and mobile customer self-service.

BILL: As an architect, I’m involved in areas ranging sales support and market research to product development and delivery.

I’m heavily involved in shaping our self-service offerings. I research market trends in customer self-service, not just in utilities, but across all leading industries. That includes studying what utilities and selection consultants are asking for in RFPs. This helps me coordinate, define and prioritize Vertex’ product roadmap. Finally, I work with development to make it all happen—everything from the look of the user interface to integrations with our CIS back-ends and 3rd party CIS platforms.

I like to understand and solve problems. Customer service continues to change drastically, so there are always challenges I can research and solve. I love figuring out how to take advantage of new technologies, channels and data to provide brand-new services never before offered and build a stronger relationship with our customer.

PAM: How long have you been involved with self-service development?

BILL: I started back in 2000, when we were working with cable and satellite companies who wanted to let their customers to pay their bills online. These were basic credit card transactions entered on a webpage, nothing like the variety of payment methods we have today. But it was a start.

Customers soon expected they should be able to pay their other bills the same way. That naturally included their utility bills, so we started integrating these early self-service capabilities into our utility CIS platforms. We’ve been providing self-service solutions for utility customers for almost 17 years, and we’re adding more all the time.

PAM: You’ve focused on meeting changing customer expectations over the last 17 years. How do you know what those expectations are and ensure that Vertex responds to them?

BILL: We listen. Vertex runs call centers and billing systems for a number of utilities. We answer the phones, so we understand which types of customer interactions that drive call volumes. Some of those could be completed via self-service.

We hear firsthand what customers expect in terms of new self-service capabilities. We also hear when they have a poor experience with an existing self-service feature, because they end up calling the call center about it.

Everyone at Vertex is a customer, too. We also take into account our own experiences with customer self-service, both good and bad. Our self-service experiences aren’t limited to utilities, either. We can learn a lot from how other industries, like retail and banking, provide their web and mobile self-service.

We use all this input to prioritize developing what utility customers really want from self-service solutions.

PAM: What are some of the biggest changes in expectations you’ve seen in the last 17 years?

BILL: Back in 2000, the first wave of self-service applications was delivered via the web and was pretty limited in features. After all, customers were mainly looking for a way to pay their bills online.

Over time, utility customers—especially the younger ones—wanted to do more and more via self-service. Beyond just paying their bill, they wanted to sign up for paperless billing, schedule move-ins and move-outs, enroll in energy efficiency programs, you name it—all without talking to anyone. In short, today’s customers want and expect to do—via self-service—everything that previously required talking to an agent. That’s why we’re seeing such an expansion in what self-service solutions provide.

All that said, self-service is not for everyone. Nor can it—or should it—include every possible type of customer interaction. Yes, we need to provide a seamless experience across all the channels available today. But we also have to remember some customers still prefer to pick up the phone—or even to walk in and talk to us face-to-face.

PAM: What change do you expect to see in the next few years?

BILL: For sure I expect to see continued adoption of mobile self-service. This will be driven by new utility customers, since younger customers prefer mobile to traditional desktop browsers.

Because of this, I also expect utilities will increase proactive outbound communication with their customers. Once customers can manage their own communication preferences through self-service apps, they can opt to receive emails, text messages, and other alerts from their utility providers. Utilities can send anything from high bill alerts and payment due reminders, to leakage detection and service appointment reminders.

Then there’s the data explosion. With widespread deployments of AMR and AMI, utilities have more data than ever about a customer’s consumption. Self-service can empower customers with this information. They can see how it impacts their bill, compare it with their neighbors and make more informed decisions about their consumption. Having this type of interaction with an agent over the phone would be almost impossible. But with graphical tools and simulations, self-service apps can render complex information in an insightful way—whenever and wherever the customer wants it.

PAM: What are some of the innovations Vertex has delivered to improve the customer experience and drive efficiencies for utilities?

BILL: For one thing, our solutions let utilities personalize and tailor the customer experience. Customers want and expect to be treated like the individuals they are. We can put bill payment options front-and-center when the bill is due. Or we might encourage the customer to do their bit for the environment by enrolling in paperless billing.

We can go one step further in enriching the customer experience. By applying predictive analytics, we can determine and target customers that are pre-disposed to enroll in special programs like energy conservation, green energy and conservation programs. Such possibilities are endless.

The Faces of Vertex is a periodic blog post that features employees from different areas of Vertex each month.