Customer reimbursement projects are often challenging business initiatives for the modern enterprise to establish and consistently enact. Not only do such projects pose certain accounting difficulties, but the sheer amount of data associated with reimbursement requests can be difficult to organize and centralize, leading to lengthy cycle times in fulfilling requests and negatively impacting customer satisfaction.

Opting to digitally transform its historically inefficient process for customer reimbursement, DTE Energy—a Detroit-based diversified energy company, with an electric utility serving 2.3 million customers and a natural gas utility serving 1.3 million customers in Michigan—recently began leveraging SAP C4C Service Cloud to process customers’ reimbursement requests more effectively through its Home Protection Plus (HPP) program. Integrating this new business solution with SAP partner solutions from OpenText and Smart Energy Water (SEW), DTE built a solution that fields customer requests promptly and aggregates essential data to reimbursement requests.

Before DTE shares best practices and lessons learned at the SAP for Utilities, Presented by ASUG conference (Oct. 9–11 in Chicago; register here), Jen McAdams, Strategic Market Planning & Development Manager at DTE, and Srinivas Sastry, Architect at DTE, sat down with ASUG to discuss how they implemented this new reimbursement program.

Shedding the Legacy Solution

When organizations leverage outdated and outsized solutions over a long period of time, this often leads to an “epiphany” moment, in which employees realize their solution is holding the business back from continued growth.

According to Sastry, multiple business units were at one point leveraging in-house systems and processes to manage service tickets. This disorganized approach to reimbursement workflows, with data and documents spread all over the DTE platform, gave limited visibility to customers, limiting them from accessing key information about how their claim was being processed. Part of the issue was that SAP Business Process Exception Management (BPEM) was being used to manage tickets within this legacy system. “BPEM wasn’t built for that function,” Sastry said.

After investigating internally, McAdams said it was readily apparent that DTE needed to transform past its “aging database” and improve the customer journey by integrating with SAP for a smoother, more visible reimbursement program. In the end, the organization decided it needed a flexible solution that could be leveraged across multiple business units. Additionally, DTE also wanted to align with its current SAP investment and use SAP partners to help build a more effective reimbursement tool.

“We had invested heavily in our SAP landscape, and we were leaning in for more platform-oriented solutions, with integrations and a built-in ecosystem,” said Sastry.

Obtaining Business Buy-In

As DTE pursued this technology shift, McAdams and Sastry had to manage concerns about how the new solution would impact operations.

“Our biggest worry about the project was how it would affect customer service organizations,” McAdams specified, noting that stakeholders needed to know how implementing SAP C4C Service Cloud would impact bill management and how these transactions would represented on the enterprise’s general ledger.

DTE undertook this digital transformation in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, so McAdams underscored the importance of constant communication with executives, even as the company worked remotely. Explaining the financial risk of continuing with DTE’s current operational state under the legacy system went a long way toward getting executive buy-in, as stakeholders clearly understood current operational issues and the potential situations that could arise without transformation.

From a technology perspective, Sastry noted that his main goals for the project were to take the functionality demands from various technology business cases and “identify how the organization was going to transform its technology landscape to better serve the business.” A huge part of this process involved communicating in “business speak as opposed to technology speak,” he added, stressing that one key role the architect plays is to connect an enterprise's IT and business sides to achieve organization-wide goals.

Inside the DTE Reimbursement Solution

According to Sastry, the new solution can be broadly broken down into five components based on the new functionality that SAP C4C Service Cloud—and SAP partners such as OpenText and SEW—provided to DTE.

First, the solution enabled self-service claims submission, allowing customers to submit claims online for the HPP program and request refunds as appropriate. Through the solution, customers could attach documents supporting their claims and access those from mobile devices. Using SAP Commerce Cloud “as a landing page,” Sastry explained, DTE leveraged a SEW module, “Connect Me,” to build the front-end portal for customers. This SAP Commerce Cloud solution helped bolster the portal's security, scanning submitted documents and ensuring they did not contain harmful viruses and malware that could compromise the entire organization.

Both Sastry and McAdams noted how, once tickets were created, they wanted to provide an automated workflow for the business, assigning tickets to necessary employees who could act on requests and move them from status to status. SAP C4C Service Cloud integrated with SAP Customer Relationship Management, adding business partner and customer details to process tickets.

DTE also wanted to improve the overall organization of attachments and data submitted to the organization by customers as part of their reimbursement claims. Sastry noted that having all documents in a “centralized document depository” was vital for DTE. “We wanted to allow agents to be able to bring up a ticket and have all the attachments included, so they could view them as integrated units and act quickly than looking for information in different places,” he said. Leveraging OpenText Extended Enterprise Content Management (ECM), and its native integration to SAP CRM as well as SAP C4C Service Cloud, allowed DTE to build out a widget connecting tickets to documents.

The fourth part of the project involved establishing multi-channel status change notifications, so customers would have more visibility into the progress of their reimbursement claims, which SAP C4C Service Cloud and Sinch, another SAP partner, achieved. Finally, DTE Energy wanted to give its customer representatives more visibility of service tickets, requiring DTE to match screens between SAP CRM and OpenText Extended ECM.

“It’s not just about the ticket management,” said Sastry. “It’s about how the data gets flown in and how the data gets modified and created. We provided an integrated end-to-end management of this business process.”

Lessons Learned

Considering the successful implementation of this solution into the DTE technology stack, which has provided customers with self-service abilities and sped up processing times, McAdams advises other organizations about embarking on similar digital transformation projects to keep in mind the importance of building “flexibility” into processes within specific program business units, even if the entire organization isn’t undertaking similar work.

“We did not have a self-service customer journey in place beforehand,” McAdams said. “Having the C4C platform be part of our solution gave us the flexibility to start that journey of a digital experience with the customer for this program by itself. The company is wholly focused on that digital experience when it comes to managing your gas and electric, but this solution gave our HPP program the flexibility to change the customer experience.”

DTE is now incorporating advanced code capabilities through this project, having built business logic into the SAP C4C Service Cloud solution that vets claims and presents back-office administrators with certain conditions considered to be “red flags,” enabling them to effectively adjudicate claims.

Incremental development continues at DTE, as McAdams and Sastry consider the best ways to completely leverage and build upon their extensive SAP landscape. The “hand-in-hand relationship between the business executives, architects, and developers” was essential to the success of the project, McAdams said. “If you’re going to invest your money, you have to be willing to invest your people into building what is necessary, and you have to have a process that supports that.”

For further insights into how DTE successfully completed this project and gained valuable business efficiencies, attend the SAP for Utilities, Presented by ASUG conference (Oct. 9–11 in Chicago; register here).

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