Utility Customer Experiences: Stark Contrasts in Dealing with NStar and National Grid

What Each Did Right and What Needs Improvement When Helping Customers in Need

January 31, 2013

In a situation that involves different suppliers, there can be confusion about whom the customer should turn to for assistance. And, once they find the right company to contact, it is important that the provider makes it as easy as possible for the customer to achieve the desired outcome. Read the best (and worst) practices demonstrated by NStar and National Grid as they help customers in a break/fix scenario as part of a utility customer ecosystem.

NETTING IT OUT

In a typical break/fix customer scenario involving utility companies, NStar and National Grid both played a part in reaching the successful outcome of repairing a blocked gas line. In the course of addressing the problem, a number of different customer experience lessons emerged. Some were positive lessons to emulate, most notably:

  • Recognizing that customers are often confused about which company to call, NStar seamlessly transferred a customer service request to the appropriate (and sometimes competing) National Grid.

However, some very poor practices also were demonstrated, most significantly:

  • National Grid’s customer service agents have no visibility to repairs in progress on customers’ gas service issues.

This article presents best (and worst) practices in customer support across a customer ecosystem.

Finding NStar’s Contact Center Phone Number(s)

 © 2013 Patricia Seybold Group Inc. and NStar.com

1. The link for Telephone Numbers is part of the primary navigation panel on the NStar home page. The resulting page gives the appropriate phone numbers for customers’ common scenarios.

DEALING WITH SUPPLIERS IN A CUSTOMER ECOSYSTEM

Anytime there are multiple suppliers involved in delivering products and services to specific customers, these suppliers become part of an ecosystem. From the customer’s point of view, there’s something they need to get done. From the suppliers’ point of view, they have many customers (sometimes millions) who receive services from competing or complementary suppliers. Customers really don’t want to be told, “that’s not my problem; you need to call someone else.” They’d prefer it if suppliers would a) know whom they should contact, b) facilitate that contact, and c) be prepared to help customers solve their problems or meet their needs. As you’ll see from this story involving two utility companies that provide competing and complementary services (electricity and gas), there are good ways and bad ways to solve customers’ problems.

THE SITUATION—UTILITY HELP NEEDED

Last Thursday, I received an email from a neighbor in my small condo building the morning after I noticed the same problem stating:

“Hi Ronni. We've been having problem with our stove lately (…since they did that construction on gas leak on our street). The gas output flow seems to be very low during evenings when we're home to cook dinner. We finally reported the problem to NStar, and we were wondering if you were also having the same problem. It only seems to occur during the evening time 6pm-8pm. Do you have any gas problem?”

Faithful readers will note that I am not fond of cooking, so I don’t use my stove every day, but, indeed, I had noticed just the evening before, while in a rare mood to cook my own dinner, that there was almost no flame on the stove top burners and it took the oven twice as long to pre-heat. So I decided to call NStar myself.

THE NSTAR CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE

Navigating the Customer Service Line

I looked up the NStar customer service number online. I was very pleased to see that the NStar home page had an option for “Contact,” which included a link for Telephone Numbers, as part of the primary navigation panel rather than burying the link at the bottom of the page or making it even more difficult to find. I made the call. (See Illustration 1.)

The automated voice that responded welcomed me to NStar and stated, “I am an automated assistant. How may I help you?” After waiting for a voice response and then not getting one, since I wasn’t sure what to say, the voice let me know that I should say what I wanted and offered some suggestions (gas leak, moving, no service, pay my bill). I said, “Problem with service,” but this wasn’t recognized. I tried again: “Customer Service.” This worked to immediately connect me with the correct department.

However, I then got an, unfortunately, all too familiar voice message: “Our call line is very busy and we can’t take your call right now.” I despaired that I would be told to call back and then hung up on, which has happened at other sites in the past. However, NStar prompted me to enter my phone number for a call back “between six and eight minutes from now” and then to provide my name. Very cool.

Even cooler, my phone range only four minutes later, and an automated voice asked if I was “Ronni Marshak” (in my own recorded voice), and, when I pressed 1 to indicate it was, I was immediately connected to a customer service representative!

Helpful Customer Service Representative Went Beyond the Call of Duty

After I quickly explained my problem, the rep informed me that NStar provided my electricity, but it didn’t provide my gas for cooking—that was National Grid. I realized that I’d have to start all over, although I hoped that she could at least provide me with the number to call. But, again, I was pleasantly surprised—nay, delighted—when the NStar CSR offered to call National Grid customer service and transfer me to the appropriate representative! She made the call, introduced me to “Monica,” said goodbye and hung up.

Unfortunately, at that point, the call disconnected. I’m sure it wasn’t the fault of either customer service agent, but such things happen. So I did need to start again after all.

What NStar Did Right

In my brief experience with NStar, I was very impressed with the positive customer experience…

 

(Download the PDF for the entire article.)

 


Sign in to download the full article

1 comment


  • Ronni_author
    Ronni Marshak on February 21, 2013 at 10:35 a.m.

    Update on customer experience with National Grid: I just received my first bill from National Grid since the mess of repair and turning back on my gas. It was 10% higher than any bill ever before! I called to ask why it should be higher when I had been without gas virtually a week out of the month. The customer service rep explained that when they turned my gas back on, it used extra gas that I had to pay for. Now, I understand if my gas had been turned off because I didn't pay my bill that it would cost to turn it back on, but since the problem was with National Grid pipes and equipment, that logic made no sense to me.

    I asked to speak to a supervisor and the rep took my number to have one call me. He said that the extra amount would most likely be taken off my bill, but what about the other people in my condo building who don't think to call? The policy of charging what gas it costs to turn service back on even if it isn't the customer's fault does not create a good customer experience.

    On the positive side, he did have in his notes that there had been road work and repairs done, and he did ask to have my number so the supervisor could call me back rather than having me wait on hold for a long time. I'll let you know what happens.

You must be a member to comment. Sign in or create a free account.