Weatherization Customer Service - Not to Be Taken for Granted

November 05, 2007
November/December 2007
A version of this article appears in the November/December 2007 issue of Home Energy Magazine.
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In the windy city of Chicago, where temperatures can rise to sweltering highs in the summer and routinely plummet below freezing in the winter, weatherization is a crucial line of defense against the elements. The weatherization agency I work for, the Community and Economic Development Association of Cook County, Incorporated, (CEDA), processes more than 6,000 weatherization applications annually, and with numbers like these, good customer service is paramount to achieving the program’s weatherization goals throughout the city and its suburbs.

Customer service has emerged as a key facet of our organization, touching every function and driving the program’s mission to meet clients’ needs. As a result, good staffing is essential and requires a well-designed system, including training, infrastructure, and technology.

Intake

The application process for weatherization assistance is administered by eight CEDA community offices and more than 30 subcontracted community centers throughout Cook County, including churches and community centers. This is the client’s first point of contact with the program and sets the tone for the entire experience. Each center is provided with educational tools such as an in-house DVD production of the energy audit and other program-related brochures and posters in the center’s waiting area.

In order to build strong relationships with these field partners, the CEDA Intake Council Committee (CICC) was formed in 2004. The members of CICC consist of representatives from across the city of Chicago and suburban Cook County.

Home Assessment

A client’s second point of contact is either the home assessment or the energy audit. CEDA’s assessors are equipped with vehicles and the latest technology, including global positioning satellite (GPS) navigation systems, laptops, infrared cameras, blower doors, flue gas analyzers, digital cameras, and cell phones. During the assessment and final inspection, clients are interviewed to gain insight into how the house operates. At the same time, clients are educated on key aspects of energy usage and regular furnace maintenance. Before the assessor leaves the home, clients are also given energy education tools to help them make smart decisions in the home. These tools include a refrigerator thermometer and informational magnets with energy, health, and safety tips.

The program utilizes 18 general contractors. These general contractors work with their customers to reduce communication barriers and to address issues of cultural sensitivity. They are equipped with CEDA identification cards, and each contractor crew is required to have a minimum of one English-speaking member. If needed, a crew member or phone interpreter is also made available to serve non-English-speaking households.

Infrastructure of Customer Service

Incoming customer calls are screened to determine how best the customer can be helped. Some customers simply need general program information and eligibility guidelines, while others require intake center referrals. Potential weatherization measures are also discussed during some calls.

If the caller has already applied for weatherization, customer service representatives provide him or her with the status of the application, estimated time lines for completing the work, and referrals to other community services where needed.

When a complaint is lodged, a form is completed, along with a routing slip, and the form is then given to the appropriate weatherization professional. This person is responsible for returning the form within 24 hours, with documentation stating what action will be taken. The client is contacted and advised of the planned corrective measures. The goal is to resolve all complaints within ten working days. Complaints are tracked and compiled into monthly reports for analysis by the weatherization department’s quality control staff.

Outreach

CEDA has learned that good customer service goes beyond courtesy and the effective resolution of problems. Strong communication with existing and future clients relies on many outreach efforts to constantly promote energy education and explain why weatherization crews perform specific types of work on the home.

To this end, CEDA has launched a live call-in hotline on a weekly local-access cable show that regularly tackles questions about weatherization. CEDA also runs a daily public service announcement on the cable network’s interactive community bulletin board. Other outreach activities include neighborhood workshops, informational doorknockers, canvassing in underserved areas, and strategic partnerships with other CEDA programs and community organizations. All of these activities help to increase awareness about the purpose and process of weatherization.

Whether it’s a historic Chicago bungalow, a town house, or a 1960s raised ranch, CEDA sees it all. As thousands of residents in Cook County seek to ensure that their dwellings function in the most energy-efficient way, CEDA has designed an effective customer service plan to accommodate residents from start to finish.

Carol Hill is the internal operations manager for CEDA.
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