Customer relationship management (CRM) is an important link between the customer and the company. It is important to focus on the methodology of providing services efficiently rather than merely distributing them, and doing so in an organised manner is an important task, even for developed countries. One of India’s biggest concerns, meanwhile, remains the poor performance of state-owned discoms in this regard. The manner of handling complaints and taking corrective action are ill defined in most of them. In today’s scenario, consumers demand not only uninterrupted power supply but also enhanced allied services related to metering, billing and other functions. Therefore, it is crucial for discoms to take note of customer complaints and manage them efficiently.
Need for CRM
CRM essentially refers to practices, strategies and technologies used by companies to manage and analyse interactions and data throughout customer life cycles with the goal of improving business relationships, enhancing customer retention, and driving sales growth. In the context of the power sector, it is even more significant as distribution is the weakest link in the Indian power supply chain.
About a decade ago, the distribution segment had serious problems in the form of unannounced and regular power cuts for durations of four to six hours; frequent transformer failures; prolonged power interruptions of around 110 hours on average for each customer; poor street light functionality; and load shedding to the extent of 40 per cent in certain areas. Delays in getting new power connections, pending billing complaints, an erroneous database with outdated information and the lack of civil amenities at offices indicated the absence of complaint management in the CRM mechanism. However, with the increase in competition and the private sector’s entry through franchises or licences, the situation is gradually changing for the better in some states. For instance, Tata Power Delhi Distribution Limited (TPDDL) has undertaken various initiatives to resolve problems in customer experience management in its area of control in Delhi. It has been focusing on revamping its distribution network, along with meeting customer requirements.
TPDDL has established a state-of-the-art IT interface and revenue protection system to improve power distribution. For a better understanding of customer needs and requirements, it undertook customer satisfaction surveys. It re-engineered its commercial processes through integrated revenue cycle management and customer segmentation. To measure employee performance, it encouraged peer competition through monthly scorecards. It has also enhanced its brand image through social audit and corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives.
TPDDL has made efforts to unite its revenue cycle and customer life cycle experiences. It is trying to provide smooth and timely new connections, 24×7 reliable quality power, safe and accurate metering, error-free meter reading and billing, and convenient bill payment options. It has set up an integrated call centre with a common interactive voice response system (IVRS) for “no supply” and commercial complaints. With this, it has reduced response times through pre-fed information. The system provides an automatic response for outage information and registers “no supply” complaints using an integrated business communication management-CRM-outage management system (OMS). Voicemails are recorded for theft-, harassment- and execution-related complaints. A quick response team has also been appointed for customers who follow up regularly and for cases that have exceeded the performance assurance timeline stipulated by the Delhi Electricity Regulatory Commission (DERC).
The company has established an OMS to reduce the time taken to resolve complaints. To achieve this, each fault management team is efficiently managed, proactive information on outages is displayed on the CRM database to accurately respond to customer queries, and information is sent through SMSs to customers affected by power shutdowns.
TPDDL’s IT initiative, Anubhav, collates customer inputs and complaints through letters, mails, complaint forums, social networking websites, phone calls and customer care centres. This feedback is posted on an intranet-based portal for review and analysis. The aggregation of complaint data and its analysis enable the discom to prepare an action plan, identify process gaps, and resolve them in a time-bound manner.
The company’s complaint management process starts with complaint registration, and this is subsequently forwarded to the concerned desk. An interesting feature is the transfer of complaints to the senior management as per pre-defined timelines as this helps involve senior professionals. Finally, consumers are given feedback regarding the processes. CRM is reinforced through strict performance assurance timelines that are built into the system. Registered complaints are tagged into the system and notification numbers are assigned to them, which are further floated to the concerned department. The complaints are marked with specific timelines, helping employees prioritise the urgent ones.
On-the-spot resolution is also one of TPDDL’s best practices. The company has identified a few problems for which system-based solutions can be provided. These include due date extension, instalment generation, updating billing addresses, and activating alerts. The company has ensured customer assurance by providing credit ratings to credible consumers for a structured spot resolution of problems. These consumers are provided various facilities and privileged services.
To efficiently implement the CRM process, theme-based departmental training is imparted to front officers. TPDDL has undertaken several initiatives for connecting with customers, such as setting up 13 customer care centres with network facilities, SMS services, direct videoconferencing with the back office, customer handbooks, mobile applications and live web chats for solving distribution-related problems. It has implemented SAP industry-specific solutions for utilities and increased payment avenues from around 20 collection counters to over 5,000 within a radius of three per square km. Single due dates for government and institutional customers, barcode-based payment systems and mobile wallets have also been introduced for easing the payment process. TPDDL is also providing accident insurance of up to Rs 100,000 for registered users in its special consumer group. Hence, its customer base increased from about 40,000 in 2013-14 to around 175,000 in 2014-15. It is also organising vocational training, customer meets, mobile dispensaries and blood donation camps under its CSR initiatives.
TPDDL has pioneered technology initiatives to improve its operational efficiency. It has implemented supervisory control and data acquisition systems for automated grid operations, and adopted gas-insulated switchgear as well as smart meters in its network. Auto reclosures for high tension customers, auto voltage regulation, packaged substation, transformer maintenance and online updates for electrification projects are other services provided by it.
TPDDL has successfully reduced consumer complaints in the past three years through its efficient CRM system. Complaint calls answered through IVRS have reached a level of 45 per cent and call quality scores have increased. The number of complaints per thousand customers reduced from 3.1 in 2012-13 to 1.2 in 2014-15. The company is targeting to reduce this to zero by 2020. It has set ambitious performance assurance deadlines compared to the timelines set by the DERC. For instance, the DERC’s timeline for bill revision is 15 days, while TPDDL’s is six days. Similarly, it has internally decided timelines for meter reading, bill payments, meter testing and addressing complaints related to meter stoppage and meter damage. As a result, its performance assurance compliance increased from 96.36 per cent in 2012-13 to 99.67 per cent in 2014-15. Its overall satisfaction index with respect to request/complaint resolution is over 87 per cent.
The way forward
Efficient and effective CRM is necessary for discoms to maintain their customer base and strengthen the distribution segment. They can bring in further improvement through reducing response times and repeat errors, training employees to handle complaints, and maintaining close partnership with customers.
Based on a presentation by Kiran Gupta, Head, Customer Services, TPDDL, at a Power Line conference