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.


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.


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.


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.


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…


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