(Center) Jeffrey Harrison, President & CEO, is joined by Citizens Energy Group’s 2019 Customer Champions, (Left to Right)  Zac MaHone, System Administrator; Paul Gruner, Construction Field Coordinator; Staci Lewis, Quality Systems Analyst; Vicki Hughes, Contact Center Supervisor; and John Kivett, Fire Inspection Specialist. The Customer Champion Program at Citizens recognizes employees for outstanding service to internal and external customers.
 


Focused on Serving You

 

Dear Citizens Customer:

Citizens Energy Group’s business strategy and employees are driven by our vision to serve our customers and communities with unparalleled excellence and integrity.
Our top priority is always providing safe, reliable and affordable service. In 2019, we focused additional efforts on helping customers in need, providing easier access to customer services, working smarter to ensure operational excellence and lower costs, and giving back to our community. Since our founding in 1887, our mission has been to operate our utilities to benefit our customers while helping drive economic development across the area.

 

Helping Customers in Need

Citizens is making unprecedented efforts to identify and help customers in need. We are reaching out to customers who may have difficulty paying their bills to alert them to bill assistance sources and better ways to manage their utility bills.

At the same time, we are working with partners such as the United Way of Central Indiana and Indiana 211 to help customers in need. Last year, Citizens provided over $1.5 million in bill assistance through our Universal Service Program, Warm Heart Warm Home Foundation™, and support of the UWCI’s Winter Assistance Fund. Through our recently approved Low-Income Customer Assistance Program (LICAP) we have begun providing a bill credit of $6, $10.75 or $15 to qualified low-income wastewater customers. LICAP, a first-of-its-kind program in Indiana, also is allowing us to provide financial assistance to qualified low-income customers for water and wastewater infrastructure repairs and installation of low-flow fixtures that can help lower water usage, thus lowering wastewater bills.


Enhancing Customer Service

From our Contact Center employees to our field operations personnel, we are all working to make it easier to conduct business with Citizens. Our goal is to allow our customers to manage their Citizens accounts in ways that are most convenient for them. Ease of use is being achieved through our revamped website with expanded bill payment options and communications capabilities, such as online chat. We also are continuing to expand our remote bill payment sites across Central Indiana, with payments posting to customers’ accounts the same day. As we have deployed these ease-of-use features, we have seen a sharp reduction in calls to our Contact Center, which in turn has significantly reduced hold times and call transfer rates. 
 

 
Increased use of in-house work crews for water system replacement projects is producing significant cost savings for our customers.
 


Working Smarter

As we enhance customer service, our teams are working smarter to achieve savings in both ongoing utility operations and system improvement projects. Cost control efforts have resulted in Citizens’ annual operations and maintenance expenses running well below the rate of inflation. Our goal is to maximize efficiency while ensuring the highest levels of safety and environmental protection.

Thanks to lower natural gas prices, long-term natural gas purchases and effective use of our underground storage facilities, Citizens customers now have the third lowest natural gas bills among the 18 gas utilities operating in Indiana, according to an annual survey by the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission. Our natural gas system is one of the best maintained urban gas utilities in the nation, with more than 99 percent of the system composed of safer plastic and protected steel pipe.

Demonstrating our commitment to ensuring cost-effective water supply to sustain ongoing population growth and economic development, our water utility is converting an 88-acre quarry in Hamilton County into Citizens Reservoir. The 250-foot deep quarry will hold about 3.2 billion gallons of water or half the capacity of our adjacent Geist Reservoir. Citizens Reservoir, which will be complete in late 2020, will be the first new reservoir in Central Indiana in nearly 60 years, and will cost a small fraction of the amount of a conventional reservoir. In addition to ensuring cost-effective water supply, our water utility continues to lower costs by increasing the use of in-house crews to make system repairs. 

Likewise, our wastewater utility continues to achieve savings since in-sourcing system operations from our previous contract operator. Through value engineering, we also are sustaining $400 million in projected savings on the DigIndy Tunnel System project that remains ahead of schedule, while maximizing environmental benefits. With the first 10 miles of the tunnel system in operation for about two years, more than 1.6 billion gallons of sewage has been prevented from reaching the White River and Eagle Creek across southern Marion County. Similar benefits will result as we open additional tunnel segments over the next five years. In 2025 when the tunnel system is complete, up to 99 percent of sewer overflows will be prevented.

Across the company, our focus on financial integrity has resulted in additional savings on borrowing costs and allows us to maintain sound credit ratings for all our utilities.

 
(Left to Right) Maurice Johnson, Mandy Saucerman, Loritta Davis, Maria Aranda, LaDarrell Mix and Courtney Harvey were among hundreds of Citizens employees who enjoyed the annual Sharing the Dream event that provided improvements at Frederick Douglass Park in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Giving Back

Citizens’ philanthropy program and our employees’ commitment to community service are improving quality of life in Central Indiana. Using non-utility revenue, our corporate philanthropy program assists organizations supporting basic human needs, economic development, education, diversity and inclusion, cultural arts and environmental stewardship. Our employees donated nearly 10,000 hours of their time in 2019 to community organizations and at Citizens-sponsored events.

At Citizens, we never lose sight of the fact that safe, reliable and affordable utility services are a foundation for economic development in Central Indiana. That’s why we continuously invest in our systems and work with partners in our community redevelopment program. It is especially gratifying to see the site of our former manufactured gas and coke plant on Prospect Street being redeveloped into a new Community Justice Campus. This project will improve quality of life and enhance the economy of the southeast side of the city.

Since our founding 132 years ago by a group of visionary community leaders, our commitment to serving you has never wavered because We’re All Citizens.



 
 

 


Serving Others Provides Purpose


For Vicki Hughes, Supervisor in the Citizens Contact Center, helping customers gives her a real sense of purpose. “I just like helping people. Whenever I talk to customers in need I try to put myself in their shoes. It is easy to forget that any one of us could be that person on the phone trying to decide what bills to pay this month,” said Vicki, who has worked in Customer Service at Citizens for 24 years. “I have been that single mother trying to figure out how to pay the utility bills and medical bills while having enough money left over to feed my kids.”

Each day, Vicki helps customers in all circumstances of life find ways to balance their bills and keep their vital utility services connected. “In addition to single moms, we hear from a lot of senior citizens on fixed incomes who are having difficulty paying their bills. And we often hear from people who have never sought assistance because the primary wage earner has lost their job,” said Vicki.

Citizens’ new Low-Income Customer Assistance Program (LICAP) represents an important step toward helping customers pay their sewer bill. “LICAP is something we have needed for a long time because our other assistance programs have mostly been directed toward heating bills,” Vicki explained.

Citizens has found that proactively identifying customers in need and providing information about conservation tips and bill management programs are keys to avoiding crisis situations that can put customers at risk of disconnection. Citizens staff have developed a model to assist in reaching out to customers who may be at risk of falling behind on their bills and losing utility service, allowing us to provide valuable information before a problem occurs.

“The model allows us to utilize the full range of communications mediums to target at-risk customers with information about financial assistance, bill management and conservation. The model also alerts our Contact Center associates when they are talking to an at-risk customer, which enables them to confirm eligibility for various assistance programs,” said Jeff Ford, Director of Billing and Customer Service.

Over the first year using the model, Citizens identified nearly 54,000 at-risk customers who received information through direct mail, email and digital alerts. At the same time, Citizens increased the number of customers receiving assistance by more than 11 percent.
 
Kristie Talbert, Customer Support Specialist, (Left), consults with Contact Center Supervisor Vicki Hughes.
 
 

 

Easy-to-Use Solutions

 

John Meehan, Manager, User Experience, knows customers expect convenience and easy-to-use solutions from all companies with whom they conduct business.

“Customers demand access to their accounts anytime, anywhere and on any device. Making it easier for customers to do business with Citizens truly is a team effort involving everyone in Customer Operations. We strive to provide first-contact resolution regardless of the preferred channel a customer uses,” said Meehan.

“Our research tells us that customers who engage with us and complete transactions on their terms are more satisfied with Citizens. Our primary goal is to be among the best in customer ease-of-use for all companies, not just among utilities,” said Jeff Ford, Director of Billing and Customer Service.

With that goal in mind, Citizens launched a Digital Contact Center with four agents focused exclusively on live chat, email, social media and online orders. We also implemented a new chat interface on CitizensEnergyGroup.com that enables interactions with mobile site users and offers expanded hours of agent availability. Part of the upgrade included the development of an automated chat attendant that provides customers information to help resolve issues after business hours.

Other improvements to the web site include the ability for customers to make one-time payments online without registration and to sign up for recurring automated payments by credit card with no service fees.
 
Customer surveys administered by ForeSee, an independent market research firm, confirm the effectiveness of the changes. Citizens’ web site customer satisfaction score led ForeSee’s 2019 Utilities Industry benchmark.
 
However, Meehan confirms that digital is not the only area of focus. For example, the team’s enhancements to menu navigation and call routing for the interactive voice response (IVR) have improved usability for customers engaging with Citizens by phone. In 2015, about 70,000-80,000 calls per month were received with an average speed of answer as high as 100 seconds. In 2019, call volumes were closer to 50,000 per month, with an average speed of answer of six seconds.

Finally, for customers who still wish to pay their bill in person, Citizens offers more than 300 authorized cash payment sites including CVS, Family Dollar, ACE Cash Express and Casey’s General Store locations. There are no additional service fees and payments post immediately.
 

The Citizens Digital Engagement Team (Back Row) Jim McLaughlin, Nick Bairnsfather, Sean Wilson, John Meehan, Paul Bamford, Brian Maki and Don Moran. (Front Row) Jennifer Pemberton, Jada Buchanan, Brooke Faulk and Rhonda Spaulding. (Not Pictured:) Buff Burnette.


 
 

 


Dave Braswell, Field Attendant, checks a natural gas storage well location in Greene County, Indiana.
 

 
Mike Bartone, Director, Gas Supply.


Smart Purchasing Lowers Costs

 

Mike Bartone, Director, Gas Supply, knows smart natural gas purchases can make a big difference in the affordability of the utility services provided by Citizens. That’s why our team has undertaken long-term natural gas contracts.

“We know natural gas still accounts for the biggest part of a customer’s annual bill. That’s why it is so important that we do all that we can to leverage the lower natural gas prices we are seeing today compared to eight years ago,” said Bartone. “Our goal is to maximize savings on the acquisition of natural gas through long-term supply contracts, as well as to achieve savings associated with interstate pipeline services.”

With access to four interstate natural gas pipelines, Citizens acquires gas from supply basins throughout North America.  Thanks to innovation by natural gas producers, the price of clean-burning natural gas has fallen more than 60 percent over the past decade as the U.S. has become the world’s largest natural gas producer. The price decline has occurred despite soaring demand from electric power generators, such as Indianapolis Power & Light.

Since 2011, Citizens’ successful natural gas acquisition initiatives have achieved more than $21 million in annual savings for our customers, and lower natural gas commodity prices have accounted for an additional $23.6 million in savings. Since 2009, lower natural gas prices and Citizens’ acquisition initiatives have lowered the average natural gas bill more than 40 percent.

While Citizens customers save money as they enjoy the comfort and convenience of natural gas service, expanded natural gas use has allowed the U.S. to lead the world in reducing greenhouse emissions linked to climate change. U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) data shows that natural gas use, mostly for power generation, has prevented over 2 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide from being emitted since 2005.

“Affordable, highly efficient natural gas continues to be the bridge fuel the nation and the world needs to meet clean air and climate change goals as renewable energy sources continue to develop,” said Jeffrey Harrison, President & CEO.

 
 


Inspired to Lead


 

 

(Left to Right) Jennett Hill, Senior Vice President & General Counsel; Chris Braun, Vice President, Energy Operations; John Brehm, Senior Vice President, Chief Financial Officer; LaTona Prentice, Vice President, Regulatory & External Affairs; Jeff Willman, Vice President, Water Operations; Jeffrey Harrison, President & Chief Executive Officer; Curtis Popp, Vice President, Customer Operations; Sabine Karner, Vice President, Controller; Michael Strohl, Senior Vice President, Chief Customer Officer; Jodi Whitney, Vice President, Human Resources & Chief Diversity Officer; John Lucas, Vice President, Information Technology; Mark Jacob, Vice President, Capital Programs & Engineering/Quality Systems.

 


 


(Left to Right) John Krauss, Retired Director, Indiana University Public Policy Institute; Jackie Nytes, Chief Executive Officer, Indianapolis Public Library; Brian Williams, Program Director, Lilly Endowment; Daniel Evans, Retired President and CEO, Indiana University Health Partners, Inc.; Dennis Bland, President, Center for Leadership Development.

 


 


(Left to Right) Joseph Whitsett, Member at The Whitsett Group, LLC; Maria Quintana, President, Q2u Strategic Advisory Group; Phillip Terry, CEO, Monarch Beverage; Moira Carlstedt, President, Indianapolis Neighborhood Housing Partnership; Jeffrey Good, Managing Director for mAccounting; Anne Nobles, Retired Senior Vice President of Enterprise Risk Management and Chief Ethics and Compliance Officer, Eli Lilly and Co.; Daniel Appel, President, Gregory & Appel Insurance; Christia Hicks, Vice President of Human Resources, Eskenazi Health Services; and J.A. Lacy, President & CEO, LDI, Ltd.