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Centerior discusses growth of its messaging service.

Centerior Energy thought it was taking a big step forward when it equipped all of its sales reps with answering machines in the mid-80s.

That was the Ohio utility's first step away from an operator who regularly faced a switchboard full of calls on hold, calls dropping off, and irate people on the other end of the line.

"Our first messaging program was a hideous system," says Michael Giulivo, telecomm planner for Centerior.

For a time, however, the move to machines was effective. Callers were not on hold, and the reps got the information they needed.

Among Centerior's operating companies is Cleveland Electric Illuminating and Toledo Edison.

In March 1989, the marketing people were slated to move to the Cleveland headquarters and the answering machines had outlived their usefulness. Management called for personal service.

"What the company really wanted was 100 inbound lines and the people to staff them," Giulivo recalls with a smile.

To add spice to the situation, there was less than 90 days to get a system installed.

Centerior went to a voice mail service bureau as a trial run.

"We started with 75 mailboxes. Soon it was 80, then 100, then we were closing in on 200 mailboxes," Giulivo says.

At that point he re-examined the program to see if it was still cost-effective. On the surface, it looked good: the $12 monthly charge per box was cheap.

However, Centerior is on centrex. Every time a call was forwarded off-net, an 8-cent charge was incurred. Similar services cost 8 cents each time.

"The true cost of service, with access charges, was $29 to $30 per month," Giulivo figures. "The rest was hidden in the centrex bill."

Centerior has a city-wide centrex provided by seven Ohio Bell COs (central offices) which are networked together. So, they could not integrate on a single CO. Without a PBX on site, they could not integrate internally.

"Also consider that the growth to 200 mailboxes was never marketed," he points out. To add the confusion, internal moves made it uncertain which divisions would be located in Toledo, Cleveland, or Independence.

They chose Tigon voice mail. "We were able to use centrex OPS (off-premise station) stations in a UCD (uniform call distributor) group. We can call-forward the incoming calls without the 8-cent charge," he says.

The integrated service includes stuttertone when messages are present, 5-digit message access, and 800 service to "real people" for help with the voice mail.

Giulivo says he will be happy with the 800 number "as soon as we train our users to use it."

Humor aside, the system allows billing by group--"home center," as Centerior terms it. He can get usage reports on a Lotus file.

He pays $14.50 for each of the 370 users, plus a 50-cent access fee each. That includes 175 minutes of messaging per month. After that there is a 6-cent per minute charge.

Since every message is left and listened to, a one-minute message actually eats up two minutes of messaging time. Of this users, about one-third regularly are above the 175-minute limit.

Giulivo dismisses complaints about reaching a voice messaging system. He maintains that proper handling of the system bypasses most complaints.

"When people say 'all I ever get is an answering machine,' it's not so much the machine they mind as not receiving any information," he says.

He encourages mailbox holders to update messages daily, giving callers useful, dated information. He also stresses the importance of giving callers options--including a bailout.

"The bottom line is the user has to respond to the messages," he emphasizes.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:electronic messages; Centerior Energy
Author:Harler, Curt
Publication:Communications News
Date:Aug 1, 1991
Words:597
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