Heart-wrenching outreach calls likely to change customer service

This summer, Energy Advisors at CPS Energy started doing something we told our customers we don’t do. Call them. But there was a good reason we pivoted from our normal process. With the coronavirus pandemic getting worse, it became obvious that our customers needed a personal touch, someone to reach out and simply ask ‘how are you doing?’ and ‘is there anything we can do to help?’

One simple change turned into a stream of emotions, and likely changed the way we provide customer service that we never anticipated.

Great customer service is the gold standard for every company and our customer satisfaction scores and awards reflect that we’re doing really great. Our Energy Advisors work and live here, for them it is personal.  They know they’re talking with fellow members of our community, and treat them like neighbors and friends.

But nothing could have prepared the team for the way our customers have shared touching thoughts and experiences during this unprecedented pandemic. Now, there’s a greater understanding and heartfelt compassion than they’ve probably ever had before.

“I reached out to a customer who told me he wasn’t going to answer my call at first because he knew he was behind (on his bill). After I assured him that I was calling to see how he was doing and if I could help in any way, he went on to tell me that in the midst of COVID his wife left him with their three kids and he just got back to work. He then thanked me for calling and said he never had a utility call to ask how they could help him,” said Energy Advisor Jacob Dandridge.

“My heart went out to him. I can’t imagine the stress and range of emotions he must be experiencing. That call was life changing for me.”

Cynthia Gonzalez, another Energy Advisor, spoke to a customer who lost his father to COVID-19 after being in the intensive care unit for 37 days. His mother had also fallen ill. He had no idea how he was going to pay for the funeral.

“I was able to provide him information about Bexar County resources for burial service assistance, and he was so grateful to know there was help available,” she said. “But can you imagine?”

Sharing information on resources like that has been like throwing out a lifeline.

“A grandmother I spoke with had several family members who had moved in with her due to job losses, and now she’s caring for her grandkids,” said Sandra Nobile-Currans, manager of Customer Contact Operations. “Providing her food and rental assistance information along with utility bill assistance resources gave her quite a bit of relief.”

Our Energy Advisors, joined by members of our Community Engagement team and others, have made more than 51,000 direct, outbound calls since June, helping customers receive an overall total of more than $17 million in assistance from various funds provided by us, community agencies and the federal government’s CARES Act. With our team making hundreds of calls every day and often serving as a sounding board for customers who are being challenged by the worst that life can throw at them, they need time to share overall experiences, without any focus on specific customer account information, and unwind. Weekly virtual meetings with our Chief Customer Engagement Officer, Rudy Garza, allow him to generally hear their experiences and thank the team while offering encouragement.

“You don’t know what people are dealing with. Nobody’s safe from this deal (COVID-19),” Garza told the team during one meeting. “In a world of darkness, y’all might be the only light people are receiving in their day. And, from the bottom of my heart, I appreciate the work you’re doing and I know Paula does as well.”

The direct outreach effort began under the guidance of Paula Gold-Williams, President & CEO of CPS Energy. Born in San Antonio and raised on the city’s eastside, she is quite in tune with the effects this year’s pandemic has had on people. She felt like we could do more than temporarily suspend our disconnect policy and waive late fees for customers who set up payment plans.

“I remember the tough days growing up as a child with my mother and military dad,” said Gold-Williams. “Things could get tight for our household budget. So, I know the turmoil of this year has taken its toll on people and they just need to know that there’s someone who cares. That’s what People First means for our employees.”

And, as life would have it, when you extend your heart and hand to others, you often find yourself on the receiving end of uplifting moments.

“There was this one customer who I spoke with who was out of work and had applied for a job. She was nervous about it. So, I encouraged her and told her ‘you got this’ as I walked her through assistance with her bill and the San Antonio Food Bank. She called me back a week later all excited to tell me she got the job and said you’re the one person who gave me hope,” said Lisa Lopez, CRU representative. “That made my day. I’m so glad we’re making these calls.”

That’s been the overwhelming sentiment. Time after time, employees are glad they are reaching out to our customers as COVID-19 rages on. It’s provided them a whole new perspective on the trials of life and given them a special sense of purpose as they provide needed resources and words of hope and understanding. The experience has overflowed to leaders and other support teams. As a result, our company will likely never be the same.

“This makes me realize how we are as a company. We’re not calling to collect. We’re calling to help,” Energy Advisor Cynthia Reyes commented. “I love working for this company!”

Note: CPS Energy normally does not call customers directly and will never call our customers demanding payment, accept payment directly during a call, or request a customer purchase a gift card to pay down their balance. Please do not be a victim of scammers. See information about scam calls here. If you need bill assistance or other resources, visit our website cpsenergy.com.

Christine Patmon

Christine is part of the Corporate Communications team at CPS Energy.

Christine Patmon