Magazine Article | May 10, 2006

Utility Reduces Clerical Costs 50% With Voice-Enabled Field Solution

Source: Field Technologies Magazine

A gas company obtains real-time access to job status information and reduces response time for emergencies by 50%.

Integrated Solutions, May 2006

EnergySouth, Inc. is a holding company for several energy businesses, mainly natural gas distribution and storage entities. Mobile Gas and Bay Gas Storage are its chief subsidiaries, both of which are located in Alabama. The company sought to improve the efficiency of its field service workforce and the timeliness of updates to its service order database, which displays job status. Alan Hobbs, director of customer service at EnergySouth, also hoped to reduce labor costs and provide more timely service to its customers.

The field technicians at EnergySouth typically arrived at the corporate headquarters for assignment distribution each morning. This process, which took approximately 45 minutes, provided technicians with a schedule of paper trouble tickets satisfying a day’s work, and technicians were on their way to their first customers’ locations. “After completing jobs, technicians wrote notes on the trouble tickets and moved on to their next assignments,” says Hobbs. “The tickets were turned in to the office staff at the end of each shift. The office staff interpreted the handwritten notes and entered the information into EnergySouth’s corporate service order database. This process caused a backlog as office staff performed this function for several technicians, so sometimes a few days would pass before the information was entered into the database.”

In addition to the inefficiencies in trouble ticket processing, emergencies were difficult to handle because full schedules were assigned each morning. Consequently, technicians responded to emergencies as well as their original assignments, which led to inequities in job assignments and exorbitant overtime for technicians. Likewise, it was difficult to accurately notify customers of expected service times, and the need for additional clerical staff within the organization continually rose.

Hobbs and a team of employees researched options and turned to Datria Systems, Inc. for its Ticket Management System. This solution is a virtual dispatcher that permits technicians to access job information via phone. The system interfaces with any service order database and enables technicians to receive assignments, update job status information, track and reorder inventory parts, and report time via phone. The system uses a voice biometric to verify the technician’s identity when communicating with the virtual dispatcher.

“Field service technicians now call in to the virtual dispatcher from home to receive assignments each morning instead of traveling to headquarters, which enables an earlier start for technicians,” says Hobbs. “Technicians carry cell phones and call in job status information after each job is complete. They also receive their next assignments through this system, so if an emergency arises, all remaining jobs are rescheduled.” As a result, the service order database receives simultaneous updates, providing office staff with real-time information about job status.

Because of the earlier start to each day and increased efficiency, EnergySouth technicians complete an extra 1.5 jobs per day, respond to emergencies in half the time they used to, and work less overtime than they did in the past. EnergySouth offers better customer service by providing more accurate arrival times. It has also reduced annual clerical labor costs by 50%, slashed overtime costs by 26%, and cut office supply costs (paper) by 33%. “Scheduling is much more predictable than before,” says Hobbs. “In fact, we’ve changed our scheduling window from a 4-hour window, which we met 75% of the time, to a 2-hour window, which we now hit 93% of the time. We provide improved customer service with this control, as well as gaining the real-time information on job status. Overall, we’ve increased our service revenue by 18%.”