Technology deployment is significantly changing the way companies are managing their operations. While there is greater automation in utility operations, in areas such as customer handling, mobile-based applications are finding growing uptake. More than a choice, technology deployment has become imperative for workforce/employee management and their mobility in order to remain competitive in the fast changing business landscape.
Mahanagar Gas Limited (MGL) is one such utility that has taken a slew of initiatives in this direction. Smart Utilities discusses some of these…
Reaching out to customers is essential for any utility, whether it is a city gas distribution or liquefied petroleum gas or electricity utility. For this, it is important to manage the field force or the company’s employees, who are the initial point of contact with customers. Field force performance is an important factor in achieving operational benchmarks and is often the only interface between the customer and the company. Their dependability is the key enabler in achieving benchmark standards for customer satisfaction, which is important for any business for brand positioning. Historically, misinformation/misguidance from the field force has led to customer dissatisfaction for many companies, including MGL. This has prompted MGL to set up a mobility platform to monitor its workforce. Information technology (IT) has played a significant role in this.
Challenges and successes
MGL faced several issues from the field force with regard to customer interface. Actual facts about customers – regarding their availability, usage of facilities, etc. – were a concern. For instance, a given customer was available at home but was reported as “door locked” by the field force.
In addition, there were challenges with regard to the collection of payments from defaulting customers. “Cash risk” was being faced on account of payments being “collected but not deposited”, leading to the involvement of public authorities where MGL’s field force was not involved. In addition, services were at times provided by personnel who were actually not authorised to do so by the company.
Steps in the establishment of the mobility platform
As a step towards the establishment of the mobility platform, MGL initiated measures for effective meter reading in 2012. The procedure was kept simple and user friendly. It helped address the problems associated with misinformation about the door being locked (through door-locked images to verify the visit), inaccurate billing (GPS location as a support function for identifying the veracity of the reading), and poor quality of delivery (photo image printing on bills to enhance the quality of delivery).
The successful outcomes of this initiative included the following:
- 80 per cent cases with correct meter reading.
- 19 per cent cases with confirmed door-locked.
- A reduction in complaints on account of meter readings.
Slippages in revenue collection have been largely corrected through automation-aided collection. After downloading files related to outstanding dues, the field force visits the point of collection. When the amount is collected, the designated person from the company’s field force saves the data and the IT system generates a receipt, which is then confirmed by the central data server at the company’s office. The collecting personnel get a report, based on which they make the final deposit.
In the case of a complaint regarding meter reading (leading to issues associated with payment), the system asks for a picture of the meter reading, enabling correction of the bill. Thereafter, the bank deposit slip as well as the commission report are generated.
Through this platform, the company has been successfully collecting its revenues, including those made in cash. Besides, MGL’s data is secured as all of it is stored on the company’s own server. This has reduced the possibility of duplication on the field.
In 2015, MGL launched a mobile application, called MGL Connect. The app gives details of both compressed natural gas (CNG) as well as piped natural gas (PNG) parameters. Customer convenience has been given the utmost importance. For instance, for a PNG connection holder, the app can be utilised to recover bills, seek answers to queries, track consumption, etc. In addition, a picture of the meter reading can be taken and sent by the customer to the company (through the app), and based on this the bill can be generated. Apart from this, MGL Connect gives the payment locators.
Customers can register their complaints with ease through the mobile application. An interesting provision of the app in this regard is that consumers are not required to place a call with the MGL centre. They can instead access the complaints section of the app and feed in the problem areas. MGL Connect can also be utilised for accessing details with regard to CNG station location. The application can direct consumers to the nearest CNG station or a drop box to pay the bill.
The CNG savings calculator is another key feature, which aids in decision-making for switching to CNG. Other key offerings of the app include viewing of domestic bills and payment history, and making payments through a secured gateway.
MGL Connect has enhanced the role of the end-consumers in making payments, finding outlets and lodging complaints, thereby reducing the role of the field force.
MGL introduced the concept of spot billing, which is an extension of the meter reading activity. The biller visits the customers’ premises and takes the reading. This is done in cases where customers fail to get the correct meter reading. The bill is generated on the spot and the entire process takes about five minutes.
In spot billing, data transmission is done through the internet (2G/3G) between the SAP server and the gateway server. The details of the bill can be saved on the mobile. The bill is printed on a Bluetooth printer and the acknowledgement of the bill receipt is taken digitally. Extensive error logs are identified and updated on a SAP server.
The implementation of the mobility platform has led to several positive outcomes for MGL. It has helped in correct determination of revenues, instilled confidence regarding meter readings (on both the company’s part and the customer’s), and enabled successful collection of revenue from defaulting customers. In addition, MGL has been successful in collecting dues from unbilled customers.