Truckee Meadows Water Authority finds efficiency under pressure

On a hot summer weekend, a water main break affecting nearly 6,400 people of the Nevada utility prompted it to turn to Alliance Data System's ProcessNotification automated services system to alert customers about what to expect...

By Marlene Olsen

The Problem
RENO, NV, Dec. 20, 2004 -- On Saturday morning, July 10, 2004, TMWA received a report of a major water main break in its system. The repair crew dispatched to the site estimated that repairs would take several days. Meanwhile, nearly 6,400 customers were being affected by the loss of service from this main.

On a hot summer weekend, when households and businesses in Reno's arid climate typically increase their water consumption as they irrigate their landscaping, it was critical to notify customers quickly about the break and its impact on their water service. The TMWA call center staff launched a manual calling campaign that consumed 77 hours and resulted in only a 32% contact rate. As Kim Mazeres, TMWA customer relations director, noted, "Continued manual calling to reach all affected customers would take several days, and that was not a viable option.

The Approach
TMWA turned to Alliance Data and its ProcessNotification service to help contact customers rapidly and avoid over-taxing its existing call center resources. ProcessNotification is an automated, event-based notification tool that can conduct a calling campaign to leave a personalized informational message about an issue and the anticipated schedule for restoration of services. ProcessNotification, however, is not limited to emergency notifications. It can be used for virtually any type of customer contact, including collections, service scheduling, marketing, and new customer welcome messages.

The Result
Due to ProcessNotification's detailed reporting, TMWA was aware of how each customer received their emergency message. By 8:00 p.m. on Sunday, 74% of the affected customers had heard all or part of the emergency notification message. On Monday morning, TMWA's call center, operated by Alliance Data, did not receive a single phone call about the water main break.

Lori Williams, general manager of Truckee Meadows Water Authority, noted, "We were pleasantly surprised at the lack of inbound calls about the entire scenario. TMWA's customer service representatives were able to conduct business as usual, providing quality service to other customers in our service area. The ProcessNotification service helped us save money and keep our customers satisfied that they were in the loop about the situation."

What's more, a Washoe County commissioner, who was among those receiving the automated calls, contacted management to convey that she was impressed by the amount and timeliness of the information she received about the main break.

ProcessNotification supports utilities in their focus on driving operational efficiencies while delivering superior customer service. The service allows utilities to extend their reach and penetrate their customer base to a level beyond that achieved with existing staff, while reducing costs. Utilities using the service are finding they can deliver a higher level of customer service responsiveness than ever before.

About the Author: Marlene Olsen is a public relations consultant and owner of Olsen & Associates in Reno, Nev. She works with the Truckee Meadows Water Authority (TMWA), which is a public agency created through a collaboration between the cities of Reno and Sparks, and Washoe County, Nevada. Alliance Data, of Dallas, provides TMWA with a full menu of outsourced services, including CIS hosting and managed services, call center and online customer care, statement generation, remittance processing, and collections. TMWA has been an Alliance Data client since 2001.

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