Customer relationship management (CRM) is one of the key solutions deployed by a company to reduce costs and enhance profitability. This holds true for city gas distribution (CGD) companies as well, both in India as well as overseas. CRM helps companies understand the requirements of customers to provide better services. It creates a database of customer contacts, purchases, etc., based on which a company can improve its relationship with users.
Indian CGD firms are increasingly using CRM technologies to develop and maintain long-term relationships with customers who are becoming increasingly active and making a strong case for consumer-centric utilities. These days, consumers seek convenience across all aspects of a utility’s operations. Therefore, CRM helps distribution companies exercise more control in customer interaction, meeting their expectations and understanding what they really want. The deployment of CRM solutions not only helps improve the core area of service delivery but also enhances customer loyalty and reduces dissatisfaction. Since CGD has become a customer-centric business, it is imperative for companies in the segment to invest in the latest CRM initiatives as well as technologies.
A typical CRM system includes all aspects of a company’s interaction with customers, whether it is related to sales or services. It is used to learn more about customers’ requirements and behaviour patterns to promote a strong relationship. An effective CRM strategy helps firms increase revenues by providing services and products as per the customer’s requirement, and allows them to cross-sell products more effectively to retain the existing customers as well gain new ones.
A CRM system involves technology for organising, automating and synchronising sales, marketing, customer service and technical support. Its successful implementation depends on the technology system that collects, manages and links customer information with the database.
A CRM solution comprises three technology components: A CRM engine, front office solutions and enterprise application integration (EAI).
- CRM engine: This is a customer data repository or data warehouse where the entire customer data (such as name, address, birth date, and contact number) is captured and stored. It helps collate the entire data at one place.
- Front-office solutions: These applications are run based on the collected data. They provide employees with information on how to interact with a particular customer.
- EAI: This allows two or more enterprises to operate as one. EAI systems are used to integrate incompatible systems (such as older systems that entail huge investments) with newer applications like CRM systems within a single business entity. They are also used to integrate the enterprise systems of various companies to allow electronic business transactions between them.
CRM application in gas utilities
An increasing number of CGD utilities in India are opting for CRM strategies to improve response times, minimise complaints, keep minimal downtimes, enhance supply reliability and ensure accuracy in billing and payments.
CRM in Indian gas utilities
GAIL Gas Limited
At GAIL Gas Limited, SAP was considered as the best enterprise resource planning (ERP) software to cater to the company’s demands. To this end, IBM was selected to carry out implementation works regarding the same. ERP solution has integrated all functions of the organisation, including product planning, development, manufacturing processes, human resources, financials, and sales and marketing. GAIL also has a web portal where customers can register complaints, apply online for new piped natural gas (PNG) subscriptions, track bills, and give their feedback. The company also has a list of compressed natural gas (CNG) stations on its website along with their addresses.
Mahanagar Gas Limited (MGL)
Mahanagar Gas Limited has deployed interactive voice response systems in its call centres. In 2015-16, the system was redesigned for increasing customer convenience with various automated self-help menus, customer information as well as other updates. The key features that have been incorporated include additional self-help options, easier navigation and after-sales services.
Indraprastha Gas Limited
Indraprastha Gas Limited (IGL) was set up in 1998. The company has a portal that uses IBM’s solutions to address customer queries. It has a fast complaint redressal system, along with a 24×7 customer care facility. Customers can also manage their PNG accounts and apply for new connections through the web portal, which also offers the option of online bill payments through credit cards/net banking. Payments can also be made through the electronic clearing service system, under which the PNG consumption bill amount is automatically debited from the customer’s bank account. In addition, cheques or cash can be deposited at the nearest branch of IDBI Bank or Kotak Mahindra Bank. The consumers can access their e-bills through IGL’s website or by subscribing to the SMS service. They can also post their feedback on the website. The company regularly imparts training to its employees at CNG stations, where a dedicated group of trainers conduct programmes and practical demonstrations. It also imparts training on disaster recovery management at CNG stations. In fact, customers even have the option of submitting meter readings online.
Sabarmati Gas Limited
The Gujarat State Petroleum Corporation and Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited promote Sabarmati Gas Limited (SGL) for developing CGD networks in three districts Gandhinagar, Mehsana and Sabarkantha. SGL provides a platform to customers for making online bill payments. It also has a 24×7 emergency contact number and a customer care number, which is available only during the office working hours. There is also a customer care centre at every 30 km distance of its network area (for all the major towns covered by SGL). The company’s website shows locations of all the CNG stations.
Adani Gas Limited
Adani Gas Limited, a wholly owned subsidiary of Adani Enterprises Limited, has set up CGD networks in Ahmedabad and Vadodara in Gujarat, Faridabad in Haryana and Khurja in Uttar Pradesh. The development of Allahabad’s and Chandigarh’s CGD networks has been awarded to a consortium of Adani Gas and Indian Oil Corporation Limited.
Adani Gas has taken various initiatives to improve its customer service delivery. Its website has an emergency customer care number on which complaints can be registered and nearby CNG stations can be located. The company also provides several payment options to its customers. Online payments can be made using credit/debit cards or net banking facilities. Payments can also be made at cash collection centres (Suvidha outlets) located in Ahmedabad, Vadodara and Faridabad. A list of all these centres with their addresses has been provided on the website of Adani Gas. Further, drop box facilities are available in all the three cities. In addition, there is a provision of making payment through cheques, which can be collected from the customer’s residence on a chargeable basis. Adani Gas has also introduced the e-invoice service, under which gas bills are sent through email, thereby saving paper.
Gas utilities are increasingly adopting CRM systems to enhance customer experience. As a result, many companies are coming up with customer-centric strategies. CRM allows a company to improve its service delivery and maintain a healthy relationship with its customers. Given the growing competition, meeting consumer expectations is not only important but also fundamental for the success of any industry, including CGD.