In any sort of business, relationships with customers don’t manage themselves. Even when it comes to organizations as large and complex as utilities, meeting customers at their point of need matters. Billing errors occur, payments don’t get made promptly, accounts need service adjustments, and physical assets require repair. If employees can’t connect a customer’s past history with a current issue, frustration starts to rise, and the utility won’t be able to execute its core mission.
This is where CIS software — also known as customer information system software — comes into play. Correctly implemented, a CIS suite can lead to greater efficiencies, better operational outcomes, and more satisfied customers.
How to Use CIS to Improve Customer Relationships
Before we begin, we should define our terms, explaining what exactly CIS is. At its most basic level, CIS helps sort applicable utility information so that different departments can effectively interact with it. Examples of CIS functionality include:
- Reading of meter data
- Organization of service orders
- Communication of upcoming, due, and overdue accounts to appropriate departments
- Funneling of past-due account to collections
The purpose of this data is to address a vital role of any utility, namely converting utility usage into revenue. This is called meter-to-cash (M2C), and it’s a daily need that utilities must reliably execute with the greatest accuracy possible.
When any conversation about CIS occurs, people inevitably want to know about CRM vs CIS. Like CIS, customer relationship management (CRM) software seeks to incorporate large amounts of data into a coherent goal with the purpose of interacting with and understanding the needs of current, past, and future clients. However, CRM isn’t concerned first and foremost with billing. Instead, it seeks to monitor customers and help ensure that they receive the best service possible. As such, it is a more advanced system than CIS, and some providers (including Milsoft) incorporate elements of CRM into their CIS suites. Still, CIS is a more fundamental offering, one that must come before the implementation of CRM.
So how does CIS improve customer relationships? Is CIS marketing meaning a new frontier for how you interact with clients? Well, not so much. At its most basic, CIS helps utilities do the basics associated with knowing who is using utility capacity, how much capacity is being used, the amount owed to the utility, and whether or not that account is current. It fulfills the M2C function, helping utilities to accurately meter a broad variety of energy commodities, produce a bill that matches that metering, and make sure that these processes fit appropriately with these processes.
Some CIS systems also include different off-the-shelf integrations with customer data, integrations allowing utilities to better implement metering and payments. Depending on your specific platform, customer data may synchronize and engage with:
- Mobile and desktop customer-service portals
- Interactive voice response telephone systems
- Meter data management systems
- Outage management systems
- Traditional marketing and social media
- Geographic information system data
- Public affairs firms and consultants
- Third-party payment processes
While not all CIS systems can integrate with every foreseen function, even the simplest CIS system provides an invaluable service for utility employees and customers alike: It accurately compiles all of a customer’s account information into a single place, produces a bill that matches that information, and does so in a way that naturally integrates with the utility’s existing operations. This means that all parties will avoid confusion as to the state of the account, including any and all completed or missed payments.
For systems with CRM integration, utilities can realize greater efficiencies and minimize downtime, which rewards customers with lower bills and more reliable service. Advanced CIS also helps utilities increasingly achieve decarbonization, a boon since increasing numbers of customers value a reduced environmental footprint. Finally, an integrated CIS system allows utilities to introduce new products and services without also causing undue confusion and upsetting existing financial processes.
Why Should You Care About Customer Relationships?
To some, the idea of building a relationship with customers sounds almost silly, particularly when considered in a utility’s context. After all, no one looks to a utility for a friendship. Utilities exist simply to deliver power, water, gas, or some such similar product — right?
In some sense, that’s true. Unless your utility is in a deregulated market, you don’t have to worry much about competition, which means that your customer outreach efforts have less to do with customer acquisition and retention than other businesses. Still, that doesn’t mean that utilities should ignore their relationships with customers, because such connections can still reap benefits.
Writing at EnergyCentral.com, Chief Legislative & Regulatory Affairs Officer of the Sacramento Municipal Utility District Michael Gianuzio highlighted the customer relationship, noting, “Forces are at hand that are changing the focus of the electric utility business. National politics will ultimately force electric utilities to radically change how they produce power. … [Utilities must be] about changing electric consumers from passive ‘so what, the lights come on’ consumers to actively engaged customers who want to use energy wisely. Customer energy literacy, in a new customer paradigm, should be a top priority. … To survive and flourish, electric utilities must become ‘consumer coaches’ as well as power providers, and for some customers they must become like ‘personal trainers,’ motivating customers to pick and adhere to individualized energy plans and packages.”
Ensuring that customers make energy-conscious decisions is far from the only reason why utilities should care about customer relationships. Others include:
- Improved asset lifespans due to customer-driven interactions
- Better management of the power grid due to integration with customers’ productive assets (e.g., solar panels)
- Ease of regulatory compliance for emissions targets
- Education of customers regarding new services and money-saving programs
- Less downtime due to real-time reporting and integration with servicing centers
- Easier management thanks to access to applicable information
- Improved branding and marketing efforts
- Fewer delinquent accounts and fewer uncollectible accounts
- More applicable data for research and development efforts
In fact, these are only a few of the potential benefits for a robust CIS system. Given your specific company and competitive context, there’s no telling what you may see happen!
Getting Started with CIS For Your business
No matter the kind of utility you’re running, Milsoft has the CIS systems you need in order to succeed. In addition to offering a high degree of automation to error-prone tasks that can frustrate employees, our system features a self-service portal that allows customers to pay their bills anytime and anywhere. A truly real-time system, our browser-based CIS solution is easy to access and incredibly secure. Our encrypted VPN network discourages intrusion attempts, ensuring that your authorized users are the only ones able to access it.
Additionally, the Milsoft CIS suite makes managing funds simple for utility employees as well as customers. Our back-end functionality includes payment processing and allows for both prepaid billing and net metering. And we can provide essential support if your IT department doesn’t want to handle routine tasks such as system security, maintenance, and upkeep. Our managed solutions are always safe and secure, and we submit ourselves to an annual System and Organization Controls (SOC) audit to ensure that our data centers meet industry standards. Contact us to get started today!