Sutton & East Surrey Water Recognized With the Utility ACE Award for Best CIS Initiative in Europe

LONDON, U.K. - Sutton & East Surrey Water plc was awarded the Best CIS (Customer Information System) Initiative in Europe for 2005/06 by the US-based Utility Planning Network's (UPN) Utility ACE awards for CIS/CRM Excellence.

This award is in recognition of Sutton and East Surrey Water's Virtual Call Centre which is underpinned by speech recognition technology from Fluency Voice Technology integrated with DST International's corporate billing system.

The competition organized by the Utility Planning Network through the Utility CIS/CRM Consortium, is a cross industry effort with representatives from investor owned and public gas, water and electrical utilities. Many of the judges are former CIS award winners who dedicate much time and expertise to examine the customer service initiatives and recognize their excellence in applying technology to increasing customer service.

The project started with the introduction of an automated speech recognition card payment facility in March 2005, part of the Fluency VSA (Virtual Speech Agent) Suite™, allowing customers to pay their bills 24 hours a day. The system has been expanded to deal with balance enquiries and direct debit sign-up. Phase 2, incorporating these extensions to the service, went live in February 2006 in time for annual billing and the initial signs are that this is equally popular with customers. Sutton & East Surrey Water is already planning to extend the service to include meter readings and change of payment method in early 2007.

Some of the early measurable benefits include: -

  • Cost savings - Processing a bill payment has been reduced to 40 pence per completed transaction - a saving of ¬£1.20 per call. 
  • Efficiency increase - The need to re-allocate resources to cover peak call times has been reduced. 
  • Call queues reduced - In the first year the new service handled around 22 percent of all calls reducing queue length and answer times. 
  • Improved access - 24x365 automated payment service.

Phil Holder, Sutton and East Surrey Water plc managing director, noted, "We pride ourselves on constantly being on the cutting edge of development in particular to continually drive our customer service levels higher. We wanted to develop a 'Virtual Call Centre Environment' that would introduce an extraordinary level of efficiency and in turn improve customer service. Fluency's voice technology combined with DSTi's proven HiAffinity billing solution offered the flexibility and scalability needed to deliver this project while keeping capital costs down. "

Nick Fisher, Sutton and East Surrey Water plc finance director, said, "Cost savings from integrating Fluency speech recognition with HiAffinity were measurable. The combined savings per transaction and reduction in cost per call have significantly reduced the costs of processing bill payments. At the same time that we lowered our costs, the automated system efficiency in payments increased. The new system offers improved access 24x7 giving our customers the ability to pay at their own convenience."


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