News Room

Media Contact:
Joe Richardson, Vice President of Communications
E-mail: joe.richardson@sweci.com 
Phone: (800) 637-8667

Co-op to Implement Automated Telephone Answering System
Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Southwestern Electric Cooperative has taken an important step in improving how it communicates with members during outage situations. The cooperative’s board of directors has approved the implementation of an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system. The IVR will allow members to report and receive timely updates about power outages via a user-friendly automated interface.

The IVR is designed to help Southwestern Electric handle outage calls more efficiently. It will provide a convenient, automated option for those who choose to use it, and shorter on-hold waiting times for those who don’t

“Particularly when there are widespread outages, our call volumes increase dramatically, but we only have a limited number of representatives available to answer the phones,” points out John Graminski, director of Information Technology for Southwestern Electric Cooperative. “The IVR can handle a whole bunch of calls simultaneously. That means a faster flow of information from the field, and the sooner we know about an outage, the sooner we can address it.”

Automated answering systems are often associated with complicated menus and frustrating interactions with disembodied computer voices, but Southwestern Electric CEO Kerry Sloan is confident that the co-op’s IVR will be different.

“We fully understand that not everybody likes dealing with a computer, so we’ve gone to great lengths to make the experience as simple and painless as possible for our members,” he explains. “As soon as the IVR picks up, it will give you two simple choices: report an outage through the automated system or speak to a service representative—that’s it. You’ll have the option to bypass the automated system and speak to an actual human being anytime you want to.”

The IVR will be equipped with a variety of other useful features. The caller may request to receive updates on the progress of outage repairs, including a notification when power has been restored to their account location. In Phase 1 of the IVR rollout, expected to take place in the fall of 2011, members will be able to receive outage information by voice message sent to any phone number. In Phase 2, coming later, they will also be able to receive updates by text message to an assigned cellphone number and/or email account. Southwestern Electric will share outage updates and other information through its new Twitter account.

Despite a myriad of tools and options, the IVR must have valid contact information on file for the member’s account in order for the system to function effectively.

“It’s really pretty nifty,” adds Graminski. “If it’s on file, the IVR will recognize the phone number you’re calling from and instantly know the location you’re calling about. That feature alone can speed up the outage-reporting process tremendously.”

Southwestern Electric Cooperative members are strongly encouraged to make sure the cooperative has up-to-date contact information on file. For more information on the IVR system, contact the Information Technology Department at (800) 637-8667.