While most utility companies are asked to do more with less, the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority (NTUA) experiences this in the extreme. It already runs lean as it provides approximately 50,000 customers living on the Navajo Nation with electric, gas, water, wastewater, telecom, and photovoltaic (residential solar).

Since the 1950s, the nonprofit entity has served the people of the Navajo Nation, a 27,000-square-mile, mostly rural area spread across Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah. The utility is committed to SAP, though it has a staff of only six people who work on its systems.

Getting customer service right for its residents is a big deal for the utility, though it once struggled to deliver this. Without established workflows or a centralized data source, calls were shuffled around and customer questions were left unanswered. As the utility’s executive management team developed its key initiatives, however, customer service rose to the top as a priority.

A Flexible, Future-Ready Call Center

Gerard Curley, deputy chief financial officer of NTUA, reached out to longstanding consulting partner, Jerry Cavalieri, CEO of HPC America for help getting a new CRM up and running.

Gerard Curley, Deputy Chief Financial Officer, Navajo Tribal Utility Authority

Gerard Curley and Jerry Cavalieri shared their story with Ann Marie Gray, VP of content strategy and research at ASUG, about how they were early adopters of SAP C/4HANA in the cloud. They integrated this state-of-the-art platform with their on-premise SAP IS-U system on their journey to improve the customer experience for the residents of the Navajo Nation.

Ann Marie: What is your SAP environment like, and what kind of IT resources do you have in-house?

Gerard: Currently, we’re operating SAP ECC 6.0 on-premise. We have IS-U billing, SAP Business Warehouse, and SAP Business Intelligence. Our ERP runs on a Microsoft SQL server—we don’t have SAP HANA, yet. Our SAP department has just six individuals who are mainly programmers.

Ann Marie: What kinds of objectives did you set for the project?

Gerard: A call would come into NTUA and nobody knew where it should go, or who would answer what. We wanted to get all our calls centrally located and direct them to the responsible departments as needed. We also wanted to start collecting customer data to learn what their needs are so that we can understand and address them.

Ann Marie: What were you looking for in a partner?

Gerard: Being short-staffed in the SAP department, we were looking for someone that has a good understanding of the utility system we use, SAP, and a basic understanding of our functions and processes within NTUA.

Ann Marie: Why did HPC America recommend SAP C/4HANA?

Jerry: We looked at cloud offerings because the call center was going to be relatively small— about 10 people. Going to the cloud was a way to stand up a system very quickly, using middleware to connect the existing ERP to the cloud offering. This was a way to get on SAP HANA without actually having to move the ERP to an SAP HANA database. SAP Cloud for Customer (C4C) already runs on an SAP HANA database in the cloud.

The low cost was key, too. It is pay-as-you-go, priced in groups of 10. Plus, there’s a low total cost of ownership because you don’t have to maintain on-premise server architecture. And SAP handles all the upgrades. The innovation cycles that bring quarterly releases of new functionality were really appealing.

Ann Marie: It sounds like speed was an issue here, too, right?

Gerard: Our internal managers wanted this done as quickly as we could. It is operational now and we continue to add features.

Jerry: SAP C4C introduced a ticketing system that tracks all interactions, which the NTUA didn’t have in place previously. As I’m looking at the system now, there are about 33,000 tickets that have been created since the system went live.

The call center is using the SAP C4C application now, and the intention is to push it out to the eight districts. These tickets will be a good way to navigate the workflow and make sure the customer is getting the most efficient service. Eventually, technicians will update the tickets from mobile devices. That way the call center, districts, and technicians will all have the same, up-to-date information.

Ann Marie: How does SAP C/4HANA connect to your on-premise IS-U system?

Jerry: The SAP Cloud Platform middleware works in tandem with the SAP C4C solution. On the quarterly release cycles, both the middleware and the SAP C4C are updated and rolled out at the same time. That is one less step for NTUA to do.

Ann Marie: How do ECC 6.0 and your SAP C4C systems work hand-in-hand to become more powerful than just a simple ticketing system?

Jerry: SAP C4C brings some key call center components right to the floor. It’s all on one page: You can see the contract accounts. You can navigate to find open items, current invoice amounts, type of premise setup, individual billing documents, and your last payment.

There’s more context about that customer and their habits. You often see recurring customers calling in for the same things: They want to check their balance, or they want to pay their bill. NTUA can track these things now. It’s helpful to the agents, too. If there’s a customer who’s hard of hearing, the agent can note that in the ticket. Those little things add up to improve the experience for everybody.

Ann Marie: The NTUA was the first utility in the U.S. to put a system like this in place. What benefits or disadvantages did being first bring you?

Jerry: From an installation standpoint, there were a lot of challenges with the functionality. SAP was very good in terms of response times and support, though. We’re still getting used to the quarterly releases. It’s a different model where you give up some control compared with on-premise. The NTUA is still adjusting to updates coming from outside.

Gerard: It took the call center a while to get used to the move from the CIC0 Customer Interaction Center to SAP C4C. There were some adjustments needed, but only on the behavior side.

Jerry: Being first, you don’t really know what’s going to happen, so we made a deliberate decision to keep CIC0 active. That was a good decision, but as SAP C4C matures, there’s going to be less going back to CIC0, especially once NTUA pushes SAP C4C out to the districts, and everyone will be looking at the same set of information.

Ann Marie: What was it about SAP C/4HANA that gave you what you needed over your other system?

Gerard: Customer visibility and tracking. The SAP C4C system allows us to look at our customers with a different perspective and gather the information that we need.

Jerry: Because the SAP C4C runs on SAP HANA, it’s faster. It already maintains that customer data in the cloud. It just has to go back to the ERP to get the billing information. It’s a very nice design for a hybrid model.

Ann Marie: How do you track whether you’re meeting your goals for your customer experience initiative?

Gerard: We’ll be looking at handle time, abandonment rate, variance of payments, payment versus wrap-up code, what are the customers calling in for, things of that sort. We’re looking at call quality, too, as well as after-call work, and then transfer percentage.

Ann Marie: What lessons did you learn from this implementation, and what advice would you give to other utilities?

Jerry: Get the solution connected to the on-premise assets very early in the process. In this case, the billing system was key. Get your data to your users in a test environment as soon as possible. They can be instrumental in guiding you to develop what features they really want to see. Also, assign one person as your “ticket czar” who’s your liaison with SAP. SAP asked for this, and it turned out to be a very good suggestion for NTUA.

Gerard: You should have a good understanding of the integration of the system because it’s going to affect some of your current processes as well as the responsibilities and duties of individuals on your staff. You want to make sure you have the capabilities and resources available to meet those needs.

Ann Marie: How have the changes benefited your employees?

Gerard: Call handle time has decreased. The agents can get the information right in front of them quickly. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens when we can all see the tickets for each individual customer, knowing what’s been closed out and what’s outstanding.

Jerry: It opens up opportunities to make NTUA’s business processes more efficient, which is really what ERP is supposed to do. For example, if a customer calls and asks, “Hey, am I going to have lights when I get home?” With mobile data collection, the agents can give the customer an immediate answer. Long-term, the employees will really benefit, and that will mean the customers are going to have a better experience.

Ann Marie: Utilities is a high-stakes industry in terms of the promise to the customer. We’re talking about whether someone has heat or light in their home. What does customer experience mean in your space?

Jerry: Customers want transparency and visibility into your services. After they’ve hung up the phone, what kind of mechanisms do you have for them to see their status? If you can improve that relationship between the employee and customer, that will lead to higher satisfaction for both. 

Ann Marie: That’s for sure, especially when you arm employees with the right tools. Thank you, Gerard and Jerry. Wishing you the best as you build on the project.

Don’t miss your opportunity to hear about trends in the industry from other utilities customers at our virtual experience ASUG Best Practices: SAP for Industries September 21–23.

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