The City of Johannesburg (COJ) recently implemented a new R580m software system that integrates the billing system information of all its major business units into one, in an attempt to manage customer accounts more efficiently. Instead, according to an article published on IT Web on 18 Jan 2011, it has resulted in an excess of 65,000 known and reported incorrect statements/billing records where customer accounts have been grossly inflated - resulting in electricity and water cuts, despite the error occurring from COJ's side. To further aggravate an already angry customer base, their complaints regarding the issue have not been dealt with efficiently and expediently and customers have been unable to access bills online, due to the site still being under construction.
"Had COJ deployed an integrated digital customer contact and communication strategy, the inefficiencies at the call centre could have been alleviated and the cost of servicing customers reduced," says Haydn James, Head of eMarketing, Striata.
Although the Mayor of Johannesburg maintains there is no billing crises, the result of this system migration is that in some cases customer account statements have been suspended, so customers aren't aware that they are being incorrectly billed. Abnormal usage / consumption is not automatically flagged internally for investigation, instead accounts are instantly marked for disconnection without prior notice. There has also been very little direct communication to the public - only via media briefings with the Mayor.
James says "The problem of incorrect billing data on customer accounts is one matter. The inability of the City of Johannesburg to effectively manage inbound and outbound customer communication through expensive non digital channels, I believe, is a far greater problem. They could have averted much of the crisis if they had the right digital communication channels operational with the correct human resources assigned."
Summary of COJ's key communication issues:
No notifications are sent to the customer to advise them of irregularities - i.e. there is no automated trigger that sends an account status communication. Customers are only informed of account irregularities if/when they receive their statements.
The COJ customer service centre is the only working channel available to customers to resolve queries but that requires customers having to physically go and stand in long queues.
The call centre is claimed to be operational, but customers are complaining that they simply cannot get through and if they do, they are put on hold for considerable lengths of time.
Other channels like digital email and fax are supposedly available, but are ineffective because there is no response. As a result, no dedicated communication reference number is allocated.
The COJ eServices site has a dedicated statement section, but it is not always available (it returns "under construction errors".) No error, or query handling mechanism is available either making it largely a "brochureware" site.
Email queries to firstname.lastname@example.org do not receive a response confirming receipt of an email, nor with a unique query response number. Unfortunately there are also no reported cases that confirm whether queries have actually been resolved via this channel.
Finally, there are no alternative digital channels to communicate with COJ, such as Twitter and Facebook.
"It is evident that COJ fundamentally failed on 2 levels; firstly by not being able to sort out their technology and business processes, which resulted in bad data and secondly, their inability to communicate effectively with the public and the affected customers," explains James.
James says that COJ need an integrated digital customer contact and communication strategy to alleviate the inefficiencies at the call centre and to reduce the cost of servicing customers. "According to James an online self service portal would allow for greater interaction and dispute resolution without the need for any human intervention - this means interfacing and notifying applicable business units of specific issues related to them, so they can be resolved. For the greater mass market who do not have access to the Internet via a PC, a mobile portal or application that will enable the same key functionality can be developed.
Customers should also be alerted of 'unusual' consumption and charges on their accounts, as well as receive periodic, automated updates on the progress of the query. A dedicated inbound email and fax service centre could log all queries and allocate unique reference numbers, ensuring effective service delivery from the respective channels."
Targeted operational communications can be sent to the subscriber base, informing them of upcoming events, such as electrical supply outages, water cuts etc. This will not only limit calls to the call centre, but will also give customers an opportunity to prepare themselves accordingly,
"With the right tools, organisations can manage their outbound and inbound communications effectively. They can run their call centre's more efficiently and the cost of servicing customers can also be reduced dramatically. Never underestimate the power of communications!" concludes James.
About Striata Striata's Secure eDocument Delivery and Email Bill Presentment and Payment (EBPP) are solution sets that deliver a rapid reduction in operational costs, quicker payments and an enhanced customer experience.
Striata revolutionizes the way bills, statements, policies, collection notices, letters, paystubs and other high volume system-generated documents are delivered and paid. Registration requirements are eliminated by emailing feature rich, interactive, encrypted documents directly to the inbox and enabling innovative 1-click electronic payment from within the document itself. Direct email delivery of bills and statements dramatically increases customer adoption of electronic documents, paper turn off and ePayments. This enables Striata's clients to achieve rapid ROI; complement their existing self-service and e-communication strategies; significantly reduce paper output and to meet their carbon footprint/environmental impact targets.
As a leading international provider of electronic messaging since 1999 with more than 200 blue chip customers, Striata has operations in New York, London, Sydney, Johannesburg, Hong Kong and partners in North, Central and South America, Europe and Asia Pacific.