No Secret Handshake Required

February 2, 2007
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MUSKEGON — Every second, minute and hour count when working on a manufacturing line or at a hospital where lives hang in the balance.

So what happens when the whirring and beeping of machines stop during a power outage or energy problem?

Instead of calling the 1-800 number on their energy bill, as residential and small business customers are instructed to do, larger customers of Consumers Energy have access to a confidential 1-800 number dedicated to dealing with more complicated energy situations.

Like their own version of the Bat signal or Dick Tracy’s watch-phone, these customers have instant contact with Consumers Energy. Though they won’t find a crime-fighting superhero on the other end of the line, they will connect with six highly trained employees at the business call center, serving only customers with complex energy systems that demand a higher level of skill than those that are on a regular residential energy system.

The number is so confidential that it is hand-delivered by the Consumers Energy account manager to ensure it does not become public.

In Michigan, 25,000 of the nearly 60,000 businesses served are given access to the number, said Julio Morales, director of Business Customer Services for Consumers Energy. The businesses also have 20 account managers assigned to help them with their energy needs.

The complexity of a customer’s service is one of the factors that determine whether it is served by the business call center and an account manager, Morales told members of the Muskegon Area Chamber of Commerce during the Jan. 31 Member Issue Forum.

Morales and his co-workers — Roger Morgenstern, area manager of community services, and Gerry Wyse, principal engineer — presented information on Consumers Energy and its services at the event.

“We know that you need to be focused on the quality of products you manufacture and the quality of services that you provide,” Morales said to the audience.

A company that is on a primary service level — meaning it owns part of its energy system — may have complex equipment that requires training outside the abilities of those in a regular call center.

Hospitals, emergency facilities, and municipal facilities such as the pumping stations in Wyoming and Grand Rapids also are included in the business call center’s customers.

“Any problem that happens (there) has a tremendous impact — not only on them, but on the community,” Morales said.

The employees in the business service center, which is located in Grand Rapids, are trained by engineers to handle the complexity of the calls and to answer questions that go beyond the scope of the customer call center.

“It makes it really easy for them to ask good questions that help them identify what the problem might be,” Morales said.

It is important that customers know they are able to reach someone who has the training to understand and help correct an energy problem, Morales said.

The business centers were started in 1995 after Consumers realized that the management of larger customers needed a better way to address their needs than contacting the usual customer call center, which handles 14 million calls a year, Morales said.

The business center employees also call customers back with updates on their service and to let them know when the energy will be restored or the problem resolved, Morales said.

For smaller businesses that may be affected by energy problems or outages, Morales said they should know that Consumers Energy, while it conducts monthly checks to the smaller systems, needs to be made aware when small businesses or businesses in residential areas are experiencing energy problems.

Consumers’ employees should be able to help them identify and correct a problem, but if they cannot, Morales said a customer energy specialist will be sent to the site to determine the problem and help to correct it.    

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