To understand what customers want from their energy company is, in some ways, to understand Millennials. In 2015, Millennials made up more than 50 percent of the American work force. By 2025, it is estimated that number will climb to 75 percent. They are already our employees and our customers. They are digitally savvy, socially conscious, always connected and willing to share, and they want information immediately, conveniently and at a low cost. Millennials are instrumental in helping us to reshape the customer experience.
The conveniences we get from technology make life easier, allow us to conduct business at any time, and give us portability and mobility. Customers want the same interactive experience with AEP – personal, online, mobile, in “the cloud,” and securely delivered to their newest mobile device. It also has to be simple, fast and provide value – something that is as individual as customers themselves.
Our challenge is to be innovative in the products we offer to our customers and help to transform the regulatory process, public policies and pricing plans that enable change at the same speed that technology and customer demands are changing. We have much work to do before we can claim success, but it is a journey to which we are committed.
AEP is investing in its people and infrastructure to deliver on our customer promise. We are developing short- and long-term strategies and plans to deploy new technologies that enable customers to access the information they need, when they need it and through their platform of choice – on their phone, tablet, website or through a customer contact center.
In 2015, we began a three-year project to install new customer contact center technology which would enable us to work across multiple platforms to serve customers. For example, a single contact center agent could respond to email, phone calls, text messages and social media, and manage online chat sessions. The new system has been planned for 2018. In preparation, we are developing work force training plans to give our employees new problem resolution skills, empowering them to give every customer a positive experience. This is part of our culture change at AEP.
It is important to understand that this dynamic is playing out across the electric utility industry. The pace of change is moving more quickly in some parts of the country, slower in others.
AEP’s ultimate goal is to be the preferred energy services provider for our customers. We began laying the foundation for this with our gridSMART® initiative nearly a decade ago, gaining valuable experience with new technology applications on the distribution grid. Those applications have improved operational efficiency, outage prevention and restoration, and provided diagnostic capabilities to identify equipment problems before they become service disruptions. It is this smart grid foundation that enables the technologies that customers want today.
However, technology is only part of the equation. We need a strong customer-centric culture, too. Our recent employee culture surveys tell us that our employees are committed to our customers. Our culture transformation journey is helping us understand how we can improve the customer experience.