In March 2005, Umeme took over the assets of Uganda Electricity Distribution Company Ltd, in effect inheriting the former UEB negative heritage of load shedding, poor customer services as well as a dilapidated network. 8 years later the situation has largely changed- there is practically enough power to meet most of the demand and significant investments have been made into fixing the bad network Umeme Customer Care Manager, Mr. Daniel Tumuhimbise, in this interview with The CEO’s Taddewo Senyonyi, says more emphasis is being put on fixing the customer delivery experience.
Briefly tell me about Umeme’s customer care services?
Umeme started its drive to upgrade its customer care services in 2007.
This was because there was an urgent need to strengthen the relationship between the company and its customers. Before then, customers were given less priority by service providers and a customer had to walk into the few service centres, to lodge in a complaint. This process would sometimes take long before being worked upon or even not solved at times. This meant that Umeme had to change its system and make it user-friendly and more efficient in order to improve their service delivery.
So, what exactly did you put in place to upgrade your customer care services?
This (customer care upgrading) drive started with the increase in the number of service centres, which made it easy for customers in different areas to lodge their complaints, pay bills and get power connections and reconnections easily. However, the company still found it necessary to create other channels, which would make it easy for customers to access them.
This made it necessary to put in place toll free lines, which would help customers lodge in complaints such as power outages, rotten poles, cut wires, illegal connections.
In order to manage the complaints made by customers using the toll free line and other numbers for complaints, Umeme had to put in place a call centre. The call centre is operated 24 hours daily. This requires people to work in three shifts with each shift being operated by 40 people, who are dedicated to solving customer complaints and calling back to get feedback on the service delivered.
On average, how many complaints do you receive in a day?
The centre receives a sizeable number of calls daily, which are forwarded to the responsible personnel, who handle them immediately.
Investment in the SCDA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition) system has improved visibility of faults on the network. With this system, outages can now be detected as they happen and response teams sent instantly. All our substations will become visible by the end of 2013. We are continuously training our customer service agents for better service delivery.
Apart from increasing service centres, introducing a toll free line and SCDA system, what other initiatives has Umeme introduced to upgrade its customer care services?
We have introduced more services that ensure one doesn’t have to come to Umeme offices for anything. Our SMS platform, which we use to blast messages on safety, account balances and planned and unplanned outages, is doing great. The e-billing and email services all allow our customers to transact business with us anywhere they are.
Umeme is encouraging customers to send in their account details to firstname.lastname@example.org so that they can receive their bills via email, which is cheap and efficient. Over 9.6% of the over 500,000 customers were receiving bills via email by September, 23, 2013.
Umeme has also signed agreements with up to 14 major banks to ease bill payments. These include Standard Chartered, Barclays,
dfcu, Centenary, Crane, Postbank, Bank of Africa, Citibank, Barclays, Stanbic and Equity among others. The company is also launching an onsite billing system using the handheld meter reading technology.
We have already signed off the contract for this service. This will help reduce the number of visits our agents make to customer residences. The company is also opening more outlets in Ntinda, Kisementi and Najjanankumbi to get nearer to the customers.
Your last word…
With continued investments in improving the existing network and building new substations, power reliability will be achieved.
Our customers in Kamuli, Gulu, Masindi and Namugongo where we replaced lines, are now enjoying reliable power supply. We are committed to continuously communicate network improvements to our customers.
This system, which has already been effected in some parts of Kampala, has enabled customers, to do away with abrupt disconnections, billing issues and inconveniences like opening gates for meter readers and bill deliverers. As a result of Umeme’s improved customer relations and service delivery, the time of responding to customer complaints has been brought down to six hours. For example, re-connections are done within 24 hours of payment and new connections are now done in three to 12 days depending on the type of service needed.