Checking in with our Northboro Contact Center
Did you know that we offer customer service at our call centers in over 230 languages? It was just one of the things that I learned during a visit this month to the Northboro MA Contact Center where I met up with members of both our gas and electric service teams to listen to service calls. National Grid strives to put the customer at the heart of everything we do – so there was no better way to get a sense that than by sitting down with the people at the front line of our customer contact.
First off, I met with supervisors from the electric side of the house, who are responsible for providing coaching, helping with calls that escalate, and messaging when there are system outages impacting multiple customers. All were call center representatives, themselves, before taking on the supervisor role.
Career longevity is something that you find throughout the call center, with many of the reps having been with the company for 10+ years. The fast-paced and constantly changing work – and the people who work there – keeps employees around, according to the group.
“It’s a challenging but rewarding job,” said supervisor Carl Hartwick. “We’re really the front door to National Grid, but it’s not usually the happy customers who are calling us. It’s people who have questions or concerns, and it’s why our first call resolution is so important.”
I sat down with Elaine Torres, one of the customer service representatives for the electric business. Elaine spoke to a customer who had difficulties understanding her bill. The customer had a payment plan in place, but had questions about why her balance didn’t seem to be decreasing. Elaine explained the additional charges that she was seeing were for her current usage. In addition to her payment plan, Elaine explained, the customer was responsible for paying for charges that she was currently incurring, which made the bill amount fluctuate each month. Elaine offered to send the customer a history of her payments so that she could review them, but ultimately the customer had the money available to pay off the balance then and there, so Elaine accepted the payment over the phone. “We helped her understand the bill and helped the company to settle an account,” said Elaine after hanging up. “So I’d call that a win-win.”
Next, I sat down with Arlene Jette, who is a MA gas customer service representative. One of the calls that came through was a woman who described her current situation: Her husband had recently lost his job and was struggling with a medical condition, and she had a son who was also on state assistance due to a disability. Recently the family had fallen behind on their bills and was directed to the call center through a social worker to inquire about the Arrears Management Program. This program provides financial assistance to low-income and struggling customers in Massachusetts that have outstanding energy bills in arrears. Arlene helped her to understand the program and told her how she could apply. With the application forthcoming, Arlene was able to place a 60 day hold on the account so that service would not be disconnected.
These were just two examples of many that the reps dealt with. Others who called were inquiring about setting up new service, or had questions about metering and new construction issues. Yet, the majority of people who called had questions about their bills. It was an eye opening experience and a reminder that the face – and the voice- of our customers is as diverse as the communities that we serve. The call center representatives take on the role of educator, empathizer and salesperson, all in one, each time they pick up a call.
“Whatever our call center representatives sound like – that’s what customers perceive in terms of the reputation of the company,” said the manager of the MA Gas Call Center, Christopher Starr. “We have that one chance to get it right the first time. That’s why we always ask them to always put themselves in the customer’s shoes.”
The call center teams continue to work on improving the customer experience. Each supervisor runs their own PEx Hub twice per week. “The Hubs have led to a number of quick wins,” said supervisor Bobby Yarnie. “They’ve helped us to improve communication, confidence and camaraderie.”
Thanks to everyone at the Northboro Contact Center who hosted me. The team says they are always happy to host National Grid employees who would like to listen in customer calls. It helps employees to understand the important work of the call centers. Most importantly, the experience provides insight into the daily interaction that we have with customers and the criticality of the services that we provide to them.
If you’d like to schedule a visit, please contact Diana Rivera or Christopher Starr.