During a global pandemic, it pays to know what your customers want and need. So, when COVID-19 hit Windsor, Robert Spagnuolo was glad that ENWIN had done its homework and was prepared. As ENWIN’s Director of Customer Service, it was his job to ensure that customer concerns were heard, understood and acted upon.
“It has never been more vital that we put our customers first,” Spagnuolo explains. “Every customer deserves and needs our best possible attention and service – no matter what the circumstances or the challenges – but particularly during trying times.”
Robert’s solution to that challenge came in the form of a Customer Value Map that he and his team put in place in late 2019. It would serve them well during the pandemic and beyond.
“We needed to better understand our customers in order to serve them well,” Rob continued. “We needed to take into consideration their specific circumstances and their individual needs.”
That meant putting in place an engagement and assessment tool to guide the company’s thinking around the customers’ perceptions of value and needs. The Customer Value Map is a marketing device originally created to help competitive companies assess how they are doing in comparison to their competitors, by listening to the customers. It was not generally the tool of choice for a utility.
“We don’t really have competitors,” explains Robert. “So it may seem a little odd that we chose this tool to help us understand our customers, but it has really helped to focus us on what our customers truly value. It has given us the tools to build our services to match their actual wants and needs.”
For an entity that has no direct competitors, why is this important? Amy Lesperance, a former customer care representative who now manages many of the utility’s customer service staff, gave one explanation.
“Just because we are the only option, doesn’t mean we can afford to ignore our customers,” Lesperance explained. “In fact, the opposite is true: ENWIN has a far greater responsibility to fulfil our customers’ needs, specifically because those customers cannot go elsewhere for service.”
This fact is also recognized by the Ontario Energy Board, which has made customer service one of the cornerstones of its regulatory framework for distribution companies.
“The question isn’t should we engage with our customers but how?” said Robert. “How can we simplify the process of determining what they need and then deliver it? We needed to think outside the box, so we borrowed a little from the competitive marketplace.”
What they borrowed was a system for assessing and mapping customer ‘pains’ and ‘gains’ to provide a visual and highly functional picture of the benefits of a job well done (gains) set against anything that annoys the customer or prevents them from completing their job (pains).
“Used well, the tool allows us to define ‘gain creators’ that can be used to maximize the outcomes customers expect, and ‘pain relievers’ to reduce friction and make the customers’ lives easier,” added Robert.
Adapted to the utility environment, the Value Map is ENWIN’s way to promote the customer service focus that is part of its strategic plan, give customers what they really want and need, and comply fully with the OEB’s framework. Ironically, it also provided a road map to financial efficiency.
“At first we were hesitant to ask the questions,” Rob admitted. “What if the answers led us down a pathway we couldn’t afford? It would have been hard to hear that the best we could afford was not enough for our customers.”
Interestingly, in many cases the outcome proved to be just the opposite. By focusing on the customer voice, instead of the product pitches of proponents focused on making a sale, Robert’s team was able to come up with solutions that gave the customers exactly what they wanted, and cost less to implement. Armed with solid data about actual customer preferences, the company was sometimes able to take the savings a step further. Robert gives the example of a mobile app undertaken by ENWIN with this data in mind.
“That would have been very costly, implemented as suggested in the proposals we received from suppliers,” Rob explained. “When we looked at what our customers said they really needed, we realized we could satisfy their needs without all the expensive bells and whistles.”
With the non-essentials off the table, costs were already lower, but Robert’s team found a way to reduce them even more.
“Essentially, we asked our creative engineers to come up with a home-grown product that would both fulfil our customers’ wish list and save a lot of money,” Robert said. “The money saved could be funneled into services our customers told us they needed more.”
The ENWIN app launched in 2020, featuring only what the customers said they wanted. It was created internally at great savings, and those savings were invested in other services of importance to the customer.
“That was a revelation. It was a relief to know for sure that our solutions were going to please both customers and the company. Thinking about the world from the perspective of our customers can help better understand and provide what our customer values most,” he concluded.
About ENWIN Utilities Ltd.
ENWIN is the licensed electricity distribution company serving customers in the City of Windsor, and is responsible for the local distribution of electricity, and the service and maintenance of the local electricity distribution infrastructure. ENWIN also maintains a contract of service with Windsor Utilities Commission (WUC) to operate and maintain the WUC owned water system that serves customers in Windsor, Tecumseh and LaSalle.