power marketing Stanley, Melanie and Courtney:How Vistra customizes customer service
Vistra Energy may call you by your name, but to the Irving-based retail electric provider, you’re Stanley, Melanie or Courtney.
Vistra, the parent company of TXU Energy and second-biggest seller of electricity in Texas after NRG, takes information it collects on payment and other customer interactions and combines it with research on consumer attitudes to categorize its 1.7 million Texas customers.
Vistra uses the personas it develops to determine how to handle calls from each category of customer, including what customer service agents should say and even which agent is best suited to deal with each customer type.
Vistra is is borrowing a page from other consumer companies that have turned their clients’ records into data gold mines of personalized information. What the data streams allow Vistra to do, retail president Scott Hudson explained during an analyst presentation earlier this year, is to translate advanced analytics into personalities to which call center representatives can easily relate.
A look behind the curtain
Vistra provided a glimpse into its customer service strategy during the recent presentation to investors and more insight into the super-competitive retail electricity industry. As with many mature sectors, such as mobile phones and services, the only way for companies to expand their share of the market is to poach customers from competitors.
That’s why retail electricity companies spend millions on advertising and offer cut-rate short-term deals, as well as other gimmicks, such as free nights and weekends, to try to persuade customers to leave their current provider and sign up for their services. Of course, getting new customers is just one challenge. The other is keeping them.
That’s where Vistra Energy’s data collection and analysis comes in as it tries to customize customer service to the personas the company has identified.
First, there’s “Stanley.” Stanley, Hudson said, is a longtime customer who likes things in writing and wants to be thanked for his long service.
“We don’t try to influence Stanley to go online when he calls us,” Hudson said.
Then there’s “Melanie,” a single parent, just trying to get by as she juggles work and family responsibilities. At times, Hudson said, she has trouble making ends meet, which means she calls about cutoff notices, installment plan options and deferring payments.
“The aha moment came when we realized that Melanie didn’t want to talk to an agent at all because it’s embarrassing to admit that you can’t make a payment,” Hudson said.
Now, Vistra directs calls from the Melanies in its database to an automated payment response system to handle the anticipated payment extension requests.
“Courtney” is a digital native who wants everything she needs to manage her account on her mobile phone app. And if she has to call and talk to someone, Hudson said, the call needs to be handled quickly because digitally focused customers want fast service.
The tracking system is so advanced that calls are routed to specific agents who are best suited to handle certain types of customers who are categorized by their value to Vistra and the likelihood they could leave and go to another provider.