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ISDN features give Alabama utility call center power.

Customer service is the name of the game for utilities these days. Anything which speeds up response or lets people know the utility is aware of a problem is a boon for the utility.

At Alabama Power Co. in Birmingham, ISDN and some of its advanced services have made life easier for customer service reps and customers.

"The ISDN Is great," says John Heerten. He is the staff engineer in Information Resources for Alabama Power, which supplies electricity to more than 1.1 million customers in the state.

The ISDN came as an additional service when Heerten was looking at upgrading the utility's PBXs. "We have AT&T G3Rs at both the Birmingham and our Montgomery locations," he explains.

While his main goal was to improve the network and get better customer service through the PBXs, it turns out that ISDN supplies several additional services like ANI (automatic number identification) and DNIS (dialed number identification service) that would make life easier for call center operators. It all added up to a good case for PBX improvement.

Today, there are five South Central Bell MegaLink ISDN lines in Birmingham and three in Montgomery. These are two of the five call centers which receive calls reporting power outages. They are configured to overflow to each other as necessary.

Two trunks have D channels with non-facility associated signaling. In Birmingham, for instance, this allows all signaling for the five trunks to be carried on two D channels.

"It saves me B channels, freeing up an additional three trunks for carrying traffic," he explains.

The first lines were installed Feb. 14, 1993, in Birmingham and March 16 in Montgomery. The mainframe IBM CICS computers are in Atlanta at Southern Company, Alabama Power's parent. When a call comes in, the ANI feature identifies the calling number by the display on the voice terminal. A customer service representative (CSR) manually keys it to the records. Response time to pop the caller's location on the call center screen is three seconds.

Proof of the system's value came during what Heerten calls a "killer storm" this past March. It dumped 17 inches of snow, an unheard-of amount in the Deep South.

"Bell South sent us 1.5 million call attempts during the storm. We talked to 23,000 to 27,000 people a day, versus 4,000 on a normal day," he says. Before ANI they probably would have handled 15,000 to 18,000 calls.

At the outset, most customers were calling from home and the ANI worked great. As the storm progressed, and power stayed out over 24 or 36 hours, many people left home and went crosst-town to stay with friends. At that point, the value of ANI broke down somewhat, since the displayed number would not be the number of the trouble spot.

However, Heerten was pleased.

Before ISDN, operators had to ask for the customer's phone number before the customer information could be called up on the screen. "Today, with ISDN, the CSRs can have a trouble ticket opened and closed before the customer had finished introductions," he says. In fact, they actually had to slow up some of the operators, encouraging them to take enough time to make the customer feel comfortable.

ANI hits are running a high 85% on trouble reports and 50% on billing questions. "If people are not at home, they don't know the power is out," Heerten points out. "However, they may call about a billing question from work." Alabama Power had anticipated hit rates of 50% on trouble and 30% on billing.

To add to the power of the number identification service, Alabama Power has published separate numbers for trouble, billing and other common calls. Now an operator in Montgomery gets a call, sees on the screen right away that it's a billing question from Birmingham, and can handle the call appropriately.

"Voice response is next," Heerten says. "We'll get the ASAI (adjunct switch application interface) information from the switch and send a voice response to the switch. ANI maps the call to a database and with ASAI will provide intelligent delay announcements like, 'We are aware of a power outage on 6th Street. Thank you for your call.'"

This will allow Alabama Power to pinpoint trouble areas and give ballpark service restoration times.

By 1994, Heerten hopes to have pop-up screens on the call center consoles with the customer's billing records coming in with the call, all through the ISDN's ANI.

"It works great," he concludes. "Our people work faster and it lets customers know we are concerned with getting a speedy resolution to their problems."
COPYRIGHT 1993 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:integrated services digital networks; Alabama Power Co.
Author:Harler, Curt
Publication:Communications News
Date:Aug 1, 1993
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