The market for propane gas is very competitive, and every little bit of help with customer service goes a long way. Providing the attention that each customer deserves is challenging for any business, especially one with 2 million customers. This was the case for AmeriGas Propane, which provides nearly 1 billion gallons of propane a year to its residential, commercial, industrial, agricultural, and automotive customers in all 50 states. To provide personal service for each customer, the company chose an interactive voice response (IVR) system from Atlanta-based Message Technologies Inc.
"We wanted to implement IVR solutions that would provide the best possible experience for our customers," says Andrew Hertzog, senior product manager at AmeriGas, headquartered in Valley Forge, Pa. "MTI has delivered everything we were looking for in a partner."
AmeriGas installed the first part of its system in September 2011. That involved creating multiple phone lines and menu trees to coincide with specific marketing campaigns. "We wanted to be able to separate out our campaigns," Hertzog explains, "and track the number of calls that they generate."
In just the month of September alone, AmeriGas was able to track about 10,000 calls that could be linked to specific marketing campaigns.
Phase 2, rolled out in early 2012, included the creation of a central, toll-free number and speech-enabled IVR that could help customers find the nearest local distributor, get answers to billing questions, or make payments. A unique component of the system allows callers to enter their ZIP codes and have calls automatically routed to their local distributors and affiliates for service.
The IVR "has been a tremendous asset to get customers more quickly routed," Hertzog says. "It's all about just trying to get people routed to their local office that can help them."
Every month, about 5,000 of those calls come into the national office. And having 24/7 access to those distributors is important, especially when there's an emergency.
Prior to implementing the system, AmeriGas had nothing like it in place. "We never really used anything like this before," Hertzog adds. But getting users up to speed was never an issue, he says.
In addition to a user-friendly front end, Message Technologies created a custom Web portal for the AmeriGas team to gain insights into the performance of the system and the overall customer experience. Using the password-protected Web portal, AmeriGas' customer service team can view interactive dashboards and listen to customer-agent interactions, allowing for ongoing system tuning and agent training. That team, composed of five people, conducted the first training sessions in the fall based on findings uncovered during the process.
"The portal was part of our requirements," Hertzog notes. "We specifically requested it."
Hertzog's glad they did. "It's important to see how many calls are answered and what generated those calls," he says.
With common inquiries now handled by the IVR, call center agents can focus on higher-value inquiries. Other benefits are increases in customer service and satisfaction, shorter wait times, and greater visibility into each phone interaction.
Though MTI's IVRs are capable of both inbound and outbound calling, AmeriGas hasn't done much with outbound yet. "We have a small call center in Ohio that could do outbound, but…that's been very limited," Hertzog says. Most marketing materials are distributed via direct mail—for now.
Additional capabilities could include allowing customers to place orders, schedule deliveries, and manage their accounts by phone. AmeriGas currently offers many of those functions through its Web site.
The IVR is hosted by Message Technologies, which also handles every part of the speech self-service infrastructure, including trunk and platform provisioning, business continuation planning, monitoring, Web access, physical and logical security, and co-location. Pricing is based on usage. While it is still an added cost, Hertzog says it's a small price to pay for all the system has given in return. "MTI is very competitively priced, and it was all well within the budgets we set forth."
Since implementing call center technologies from MTI, propane gas provider AmeriGas is able to:
- track about 10,000 calls a month and link them to specific marketing campaigns; and
- route about 5,000 calls that come into the national office every month to local distributors or offices.