Director of Customer Service at LG&E and KU focuses on growing ability to meet customer expectations

Rebecca Harris, Research Analyst –

Debbie Leist, Director of Customer Service and Marketing at LG&E and KU, recently spoke with Chartwell about challenges in the utility industry. She highlighted LG&E and KU’s approach to meeting rising customer expectations.

Chartwell: Of the many challenges facing the industry today, which one concerns you the most?

Debbie Leist: One change that concerns me, but is exciting, is determining what the future utility company will look like and how it differs from the past. Utility companies have historically been traditional and slow to change. But the industry is changing, as we have seen with forecasted flat-load growth and utilities implementing technology in the field, not just in the back office. We are in the process of determining what the future looks like for us.

For the Customer Service area specifically, the biggest challenge we face is determining how to keep up with customers’ high expectations. Customers compare doing business with us to their best experience, regardless of industry. We do not have the resources to provide the same digital experience as companies like Amazon, so how can we mirror that experience on a much smaller budget?

CW: How have your customers’ expectations changed in recent years?

DL: Customer expectations have changed dramatically in recent years. This is a result of technology and, as mentioned above, comparisons to businesses outside the industry. Customers are increasingly more tech savvy and expect more from the companies with which they do business. They want more information and options, and they want it at their fingertips to make decisions and conduct business quickly.

CW: What are your recent successes and lessons learned in keeping customers satisfied?

DL: We are always looking for opportunities to improve the experience and reduce effort for our customers. This is accomplished through process analysis, utilization of technology and employees. We utilize process improvement teams that identify, analyze and recommend opportunities for improvements to enhance the customer experience.

From a technology perspective, we are enhancing our channels by providing our customers choices on how and when they interact with us.

We are also focused on providing a positive employee experience through recruiting, communication and training. We realize if we want to be good on the outside, we have to be good on the inside. We have improved our recruiting to attract quality candidates that have the ability to change with us. We are also improving communication within the teams and constantly adjusting employee training.

A recent lesson learned is to understand what customers want instead of what we think they want. We do this by conducting surveys and utilizing focus groups to solicit feedback. This allows us to deliver a much better product.

CW: Which upcoming initiative at LG&E and KU has you most excited?

DL: Data analytics. In order to become a more data-driven organization, we have a corporate initiative to create a Center of Excellence and have more technical data analyst roles in each area of the business. I’m excited to think about the possibilities of how additional information can enable us to better serve our customers.

CW: What companies outside the industry do you admire most? Why?

DL: Amazon is innovative and customer-focused, and it utilizes technology to enhance the customer experience. They think outside the box to raise the bar, make it very easy to do business with them and do a great job of keeping customers informed.

Southwest is an airline that provides customers with what they want. Customers can check bags without a fee, cancel a flight or take advantage of fare decreases without penalty.

CW: How have Chartwell’s research and services helped you succeed?

DL: Chartwell is a source of information that we use to improve our operations. Chartwell allows us to gauge industry trends, identify industry best practices, understand what other utilities are doing and gain insight into the strategy that drives those decisions.

We also use Chartwell for improving outage communication internally and externally. Participation in the Outage Communications Leadership Council has allowed us to network with other industry professionals and collaborate on ETR establishment and measurement processes, outage notification procedures and outage map upgrade ideas.

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