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How Data Analytics Helped CPS Energy Launch a Growing Customer Experience Initiative

By March 26, 2024No Comments
Customer Experience
As the nation’s largest community-owned electric and gas utility, San Antonio-based CPS Energy is at the vanguard among municipal utilities, growing data management and analytics to better serve customers.  Across the utility, a few hundred employees have data analytics-focused responsibilities. One of the fastest growing areas is CPS Energy’s Customer Experience division, which was launched with a single manager in 2020 and has since grown to a head count of 17 in 2023, with plans for further growth in 2024.  The group gained this momentum by demonstrating how data analytics enable a better understanding of its customers and better ways to serve them.

Getting to Know the Customer Brings Benefits

Arnold Santayana, employee No. 1 on the Customer Experience team, said the initiative started small during the COVID-19 pandemic, with a project designed to address customers’ unique needs during that time.

“We started trying to understand who needed assistance and was struggling with their payments. Then, we tried to figure out how to get those people on payment plans and identify people who needed to qualify for assistance. We said, ‘How can we help the customers in the situation that we’re in right now?’” Santayana said.

For example, in late 2020, CPS Energy was allocated $20 million in federal funds through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) to apply to accounts of customers who qualified for assistance. Distributing the funds proved slow and onerous because the application process was completely manual. However, the Customer Experience team used a data-driven approach to analyze applications, automating 99% of the process.

In 2023, distributing the remaining $1.3 million in ARPA funds proved much more efficient. The Customer Experience team gained valuable knowledge to apply to improving customer targeting, acquisition, and enrollment in other assistance programs.

“People started to realize the benefit of knowing more about our customers. It was an aha moment, and we knew we needed more of this,” Santayana said.

Data Analytics Leads to Big Wins

Today, the Customer Experience team leverages its data analytics capabilities to support CPS Energy’s Marketing, Customer Service Call Center, Accounts Receivable, Community Outreach, and Metering Service teams, among others.

Big wins include the team’s ability to automate low-level, routine tasks to free up employees for more valuable work. For example, the Accounts Receivable group produced an aggregated report of accounts receivable information that provided little granularity about customers. The Customer Experience team collaborated with the IT and Accounts Receivable teams and undertook an arduous project to create detailed reporting from scratch using new processes.

“Now we have a tool that takes all that work that took almost three weeks just to get the data into a format we could use for reporting and automates it to where it has now been compressed to a day or two,” Santayana said.

Another benefit of Customer Experience analytics has been better communication, interactions, and relationships with customers. One metric of success has been improved performance by CPS Energy’s Customer Response unit, which connects customers to assistance programs. Improved customer data has enabled that team to communicate better with customers electronically and via in-person outreach, leading to more efficient and effective conversions.

Next Steps in the Customer Analytics Journey

According to Santayana, the Customer Experience team will use data analytics to advance customer-focused initiatives in three ways in 2024:

  • Build on its foundation of automating manual processes, which may include leveraging artificial intelligence as appropriate.
  • Continue to upskill existing employees and hire new team members with coding skills to help the transition to advanced database tools that support data integrity, accuracy, security, and maintenance.
  • Launch a classic customer experience project by developing customer journeys to articulate how customers interact with CPS Energy, where pain points exist, and what issues must be fixed.

Lessons Learned Standing Up a Data-Driven Customer Experience Initiative

There is often a belief that data analytics and modeling is an easy fix to a company’s problems, but it never is. Models require continual improvement. They require constant tinkering on a steady crawl to success.

It was no different at CPS Energy. Santayana says that any utility at the onset of its data analytics journey should embrace the opportunities that arise from failure.

“The failures that you have only benefit you and others in the future,” Santayana said. “You’re just gaining knowledge. If you’ve never done something before or if the company’s never done it before, then you have to start from square one and build knowledge. The only way you build knowledge is by failing.”

Open communication with leadership is another key lesson. Data-focused teams need to manage expectations, especially in new areas of application. Alternatively, if a senior leader has experience building an analytics-driven objective, Santayana advises using such a leader as a sounding board and champion with other senior leaders.

CPS Customer Experience Analytics

CPS Energy is a utility member of Utility Analytics Institute.

Jay Hodgkins specializes in thought-leadership content and content marketing, with clients including Fortune 500 companies, startups, and academic institutions. He has served as editorial director at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business, a lead speechwriter for the CEO of NRG Energy, and a journalist for Gannett newspapers. He is an author of fiction and nonfiction, including co-author of “Athlete Brands: How to Benefit from Your Name, Image & Likeness” (Darden Business Publishing). He is represented by literary manager Eric C. Jones of Tobias Literary Management for TV and film screenwriting. Jay earned a master’s degree in creative writing with distinction from the University of Edinburgh and a bachelor’s degree in commerce from the University of Virginia.