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Consumer Relationships Management in Power Discoms, Shri Piyush Goyal, Head - Consumer Relationships Management, North Delhi Power Limited (NDPL)

A lot has been written, spoken and discussed about power sector reforms in India. How it all started with liberalisation in 1991, regulations in 1998, Electricity Act in 2003, unbundling, AT&C loss, subsidy, etc. But, less has been thought about the electricity consumers! No reform is possible without engagement of its consumers and the irony is that no other sector has probably been as apathetic to its consumers as has been the power sector. Right from the time of applying for power connection, to supply and billing, the consumers are treated as if they are begging for something in free! Power Sector has been plagued with socio-political factors and to a large extent; the consumers themselves are to be blamed for the current scenario. However, without going deeper in to the reform part, let's focus on Consumer Relationship Management aspects.

Historically, utility companies have been less focused on consumers; primarily, due to factors such as regulations, capped pricing, not-so-professional management, being more capital intensive and carrying a greater burden of capital debt to service. In Indian context, the theft of electricity and hence, less revenue have added further misery to the wounds. Cumulatively, over a period of time, the electricity sector became quite insensitive to it consumers. Apart from opening new accounts and billing for services, the relationship was remote, with consumers too giving no more thought to their power provider than they would to finding a post office. However, with increasing global awareness, opening of more and more sectors to competition, the consumers have started expecting quality service. It is high time that the electricity sector starts paying more attention to the satisfaction of their consumers.

Most of the time, it is said that when there is no money with Discoms to arrange for power from the grid, what is the sense in spending money for consumers service. However, the argument should be the other way. If Discoms start taking care of their consumers, the sector will become viable. This has been proven in Delhi. The AT&C losses hovering around 50 percent have been brought down to under 15 percent by NDPL. The only management philosophy that was used here was to treat electricity as any other commodity and consumers were given due respect and even, involved in decision making. The historic process and philosophy were challenged. For example, why should consumer come to Discom for connection? Why can't Discom arrange for commercial facility at the consumer door as is done by Banking/telecom sector now? Why can't consumer have the benefit of modern technology and practices like, on line payment, consumer care centres, call centres, SCADA, etc.

Many Discoms have started taking initiatives in the direction of consumer service. However, these have been few and far between and not backed up by a proper strategic Consumer Relationship Management (CRM) Plan. CRM is nothing but a comprehensive approach to provide seamless integration of every aspect of business that touches the consumers. CRM is concerned with the creation, development and enhancement of individualised customer relationships with carefully targeted consumers and consumer groups, resulting in maximising their total customer life-time value. Having defined CRM, following are a few initiatives that can help a Discom to chart out its CRM Plan:

Voice of Consumers - The beginning of a consumer-centric business plan has to be the mapping of consumer needs and expectations. It is not sufficient today just to meet the basic needs of the consumers but also to stretch to even meet and exceed the stated, unstated and anticipated expectation of theirs. This can be done through survey, feedback, consumer meets, analysis of complaints, etc. For example, while the obvious need of consumers will be of reliable supply and cheaper power, the anticipated expectation could be of proactive information about the planned interruption, proper amenities in consumer care centre, availability and ease of complaint management system, etc.

Consumer Centricity - A consumer driven business excellence plan will be successful only when the entire organisational structure is aligned to meet the expectation of consumers. This, in turn, is possible by building a consumer-centric culture through People, Process & Technology. Each work system and process has to be built with only one objective and that is to meet the expectation of the consumers. It is also important to design a superior consumer experience around various stages of touch points, viz., new connection, metering, billing, payment, etc., which is consistent, reduces rework and improves the cost of servicing. Conducting training modules for Customer facing and non-Customer facing employees is very imperative. The judicious use of technology like, ERP, SCADA, GIS, etc. enhances the operational efficiency.

Focused Consumer Engagement Strategies - It is very important to segment the consumers depending upon their usage or importance to organisation. A good CRM develops appropriate strategy based on target segment of the consumers and not a general strategy for all consumers. For example, a centralised and technology-based approach may be more suitable for small residential users and on the other hand, a personalised client management service may be desired for large consumers.

Grievance Handling Mechanism - While the above shall take care of most of the issues proactively; no CRM is complete without devising a proper grievance handling mechanism. The disgruntled voice of an unsatisfied consumer is more evident than the silence of thousand satisfied consumers. Therefore, the Discoms must provide the convenient and effective mechanism to take care of the lodging and resolution of the complaints/requests. There has to be a mechanism to call back and check with consumers if he/she is satisfied with the resolution of the complaint or not.

The day is not too far when India may be power surplus and that will make the open access a reality. Under that scenario, only the Discoms with a sound CRM plan in place will survive. It is time for Discoms to start building the same!