Chief Customer Officer for the Energy Industry, With Penni Conner – CB27

Episode Overview

Penelope (Penni) Conner has spent her entire career in the energy industry.  Her background is interesting as she is professionally an engineer, but found her way to the customer care space. From there, she found a place to successfully combine three tiers of skills:

  • Analytical
  • Storytelling
  • Change Management

She stayed within customer experience and remained focused there. Interestingly, though, her role as a CCO came about because of a company merger. The requirement was to unite multiple operating models into a single, understandable experience for the customers. Penni was tasked with that.

About Penni

From Penni’s own LinkedIn:

Utility executive with over 25 years of experience in field operations, customer service and energy efficiency. My current role as Senior VP and Chief Customer Officer for Eversource Energy involves both leading the meter to cash team and processes and leading the energy efficiency programs for our three state service territory.

Jeanne Bliss Penni ConnerThe meter to cash team of over 1100 provides customer service to Eversource’s customers in Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Hampshire. This team provides call center, billing, credit and collections, and business account management to 3.5 million electric and gas customers.

Eversource Energy provides nationally leading energy efficiency programs to our customers in CT, MA and NH. These programs offer energy savings ideas and solutions to all customer segments. The programs invest over $500M in energy efficiency annually.

Author of two books targeted to utility professionals. The first, published in 2005 is “Customer Service: Utility Style”. this is a primer outlining strategies to provide excellent customer service. My most recent book, “Energy Efficiency: Principles and Practices” was published in January 2009 and provides tools and strategies to offer energy efficiency programs.

Specialties: Frequent speaker at conferences and forums talking about sustainable energy strategies and customer service.

The Initial CCO Steps

Penni runs through a host of things she had to understand and navigate as a Chief Customer Officer for the energy industry and her specific company. When the companies merged, there were a lot of existing and — to be blunt — duplicate roles and processes. She had to navigate a giant maze of all that, as she discusses throughout the interview. So what did she do?

  • Set up a series of 360-degree meetings across the company
  • Worked with the CEO directly to identify 200 of the most engaged employees and leaders throughout the org
  • Selected operationally-understandable projects that would illuminate her role

All of these bullets are key, but I’d actually hone in on No. 3 if you’re newer to a CCO role — or if the CCO role is new to your organization. A lot of times, pre-existing executives don’t understand that role. They deal with customers in their own way, relative to their silo. They don’t understand the need for a new executive who supposedly will unify customer experience. So you need to begin with operationally-understandable projects. This provides clarity for the role, as Penni notes repeatedly here.

The Power Of The Fourth Year

Like many CX leaders before her, Penni began with a set of initiatives and was making progress in them as distinct projects.  But it was in her fourth year in her role that she restructured how she advanced the work by engaging with executives on a collaborative steering team.  And that has made a big difference for her in gaining traction.  

We all want to do a good job at work and really “hit the ground running,” but sometimes in Chief Customer Officer work for the energy industry (and other industries), the real pop comes in Year 4.

But You Can Still Take Immediate Steps

Scroll above to where we talk about “operationally-understandable” projects. Penni picked two off the bat. She:

  • Redesigned the bill customers received
  • Optimized the digital experience

In both cases, she was able to provide clarity around her value and tasks to colleagues. This is where any “seat at the table” discussion begins.

The Pay-It Forward Question

I ask all my guests this one: “What do you know now that you wish you knew then?” Penni had some good responses here (it’s near the end of the interview), including:

  • Build out a steering committee for key projects, and include executives: Executives need to feel they have “skin in the game” or ties to essential deliverables, or else it will fall by the wayside as their time is taken up elsewhere.
  • Focus on actions with real impact: Digital transformation is a good example right now. Many companies are still behind on that — and newer concepts, like VR and AI, will be at relative “scale” soon. If you still don’t know how to use social media to work with customers, as a small example, you’re already behind. When chatbots replace social media managers, you’ll be further behind. Driving priorities around digital transformation and customer connection points is crucial.
  • Learn from others: Good customer experience is a science — and an art. Read books. Talk to competitors and friends. Listen to podcasts. Create Google News alerts. Don’t build walls. Extend tables.

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