Service quality as a competitive differentiator for utility companies using call centres to achieve customer satisfaction : a case of Eskom eastern region.
ESKOM is the Electricity Supply Commission, a South African utility company that provides electricity to South Africa. The Group's principal activity includes generation, transmission of electricity to industrial, mining, commercial, agricultural and residential customers and distributors. Eskom services a customer base well in excess of 3 million. In the past years Eskom had a few hundred thousand customers and as such had a customer service model that relied on face-to-face contact with all its customers. Customers enjoyed coming into an Eskom office for a chat when they paid their accounts, and had other electricity related queries. Five years ago their customer base had grown to approximately 3 million and it was obvious that Eskom could not continue with that model. South Africa had come out of the apartheid isolation and Eskom realised that they were very uncompetitive. Faced with this growth, improving customer satisfaction and ways to deliver service became critical questions. It became clear as well that customer acquisition and retention are important and will even be more so in a future deregulated electricity supply industry. The Group had to come with creative solutions to questions presented by these challenges. The utilization of call centres to address customer service delivery, customer satisfaction, as well as means to remaining competitive in the new millennium is the route that ESKOM has taken to address these key questions. Hence the basis for the study is to investigate the effectiveness of call centres as tools to offer service delivery and customer satisfaction. The focus of the study was located at the Shelley Beach Area Office; wherein it was apparent that the customers in this zone were not using the call centre to address their queries rather opted to visit the area office personally. The study then aimed to discover the cause of this, and how it could be curtailed, as the office was not as sufficiently equipped to deal with the vast number of queries that descended on them in this manner. The findings of the study will chart a way in unraveling the extent of the problem of people not using call centres, also will uncover the underlying factors that sustains this behaviour. It will also help in identifying what needs to be done to discourage this trend. The effectiveness of call centers has, however been found to differ between rural, urban and semi-urban areas. Call centers appeared to be more effective in urban areas, where supporting infrastructure (telephones) is readily available than in rural areas with limited access to telephones. It was noted that in rural areas mostly access to the telephone was limited in comparison to semi-urban and urban areas. Now, 7% of rural households have landline phones, up from 6% in 1994. The level of awareness of the call centre in these areas was also a point of concern. Up to 70% of people in rural areas were not aware of the existence of the call centre. In contrast to 76,8% in urban areas who were aware of its existence. Another factor, that influenced the use of call centres or lack thereof, was the degree of satisfaction, received from call centre service. Despite these concerns, the rural infrastructural development will see the increase in telecommunication in rural areas. The heightened awareness of existence of call centres and the service they provide will modify the rampant tendency of customers in Shelley Office area to descend in that office in their numbers. While the study's recommendations are not prescriptive, however they provide necessary information relevant for decisive intervention by management. It offers guidelines as to what could be done.