Chartwell Maps CRM, Utilities

Utilities and energy providers are not as far along with their CRM efforts as many companies in deregulated industries, reported Chartwell, a tiny research firm in Atlanta serving the utilities sector. But when the deregulation snowball picks up speed, energy providers will catch up, the firm predicts. Chartwell surveyed as many as 100 utilities last year about their CRM plans and released its findings today.

What's causing the current lag? Simply put, there's industry-wide concerns over the right implementation strategy and doubt about whether certain CRM vendors will be around to support their products or be gobbled up as the market consolidates -- all of which is keeping many companies from taking the CRM plunge.

Despite these hurdles, CRM is enjoying some notable success. Chartwell's survey showed that 13 percent of respondents reported having CRM technology; 19 percent were in the planning stages; and 11 percent were considering adding CRM. These figures are slightly misleading, though, because CRM's definition among utilities is still very hazy. For instance, Chartwell reported that many utility managers believe that simply stepping up customer-service and marketing activities -- from customer surveys to outage reporting -- falls under the aegis of customer relationship management.

Chartwell claims CRM should start with the contact center. Gathering data from the call center and integrating it with other customer data or using the data to enhance a caller's experience is a key component to CRM. In this vein, CRM has a long way to go in the utilities industry. Sixty-seven percent of respondents who reported having CRM don't have a Web-enabled customer-service system, and many lack CRM-related routing tools such as automatic call distributor, interactive voice response and computer-telephony integration in their contact centers.

On the upside, utilities are becoming aware of CRM's benefits -- namely, CRM helps utilities win market share by increasing customer loyalty and reducing churn. Another survey by Chartwell also showed that utilities' are continuing to eye the technologies that make CRM possible, such as upgrading their legacy customer information systems (CIS) applications.

The Chartwell report concludes: "Those embracing a true CRM initiative, complete with sales and marketing components, will rely on interfacing CIS and billing with the customer services applications... as well as management systems such as field ops, GIS [geographic information system] and outage notification."

Tom Kaneshige also writes for

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