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- 2013 - December - 31st -

JEA customer service gets overhaul, higher marks

By Carole Hawkins, Contributing Writer

The lobby of JEA's Customer Care Center on Church Street looks and feels more like the lobby of a bank than a utility company.  

There's an information desk to get answers to simple questions or to navigate to another counter, and a personal assistant who helps with complex problems.

There are computers where customers can access bills online and service lines that are separated according to whether a person is paying bills or asking questions about an account.

The changes go deeper.

Following a lackluster report in 2012, JEA improved its customer satisfaction rating 51 index points in 2013, according to JD Power and Associates, an independent global marketing and research company. That makes JEA the most improved utility of any in the nation, ranking just above average nationally.

"We were thrilled with the results," said Monica Whiting, chief customer officer for JEA. "It's not only the most improved company of this year, but the most significant improvement in JD Power's history. We are very proud of our employees and grateful to our customers for recognizing the changes we've made."

In 2012 the news wasn't as good. That summer, the JD Power assessment ranked JEA near the bottom of the pack — 116th out of 126 utility companies — for customer satisfaction.

"That was our board's 'aha' moment," Whiting said. "They decided to set a goal to move into the top quartile."

When the board hired CEO Paul McElroy, one of his directives was to improve customer service.

The utility then addressed three areas shown to impact customer satisfaction the most: power quality and reliability, price, and billing and payments.

Price would be one of the biggest challenges. While tighter regulations and a higher cost of living drove other Southeastern utilities to propose rate hikes, JEA lowered expenses by $131 million and maintained its base rate since 2011.

Customer perception of price actually improved as JEA gave more tips on energy conservation and provided on online tracker where customers could monitor in real time their own electric and water consumption.

"The monthly cost is important, but customers want to feel they have control over that bill," Whiting said. "With transparency and by putting efficiency programs in place they have can have that control."

JEA also offered alternatives to monthly payments, like level billing, which averages seasonal peaks and lows to one constant monthly rate; weekly billing, for customers who want to bills to coincide with paychecks; and a pre-pay system, for customers who don't want to put down a deposit.

"Not everybody needs the different payment options, but we have found for certain target markets, the customers manage their costs better," Whiting said of the program that's been around for about 18 months.

JEA always had best-in class infrastructure, but now does a better job of communicating with customers during power outages, so they know when the power is coming back on.

The changes won't end with the new ranking, Whiting said. JEA still ranks below its stated goal.

The company has created an online focus group of customers to keep the advice coming.

"And believe me, they do tell us what they think," Whiting said.  

The idea is to create a constant feedback loop, so the company remains attuned as customers' needs evolve.

"This improvement is not a one-time movement of the dial," Whiting said. "It's truly a culture change for JEA."

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