Create ‘culture of customer-centricity’ for greater success
BULL MARKET, BULL SHEET - Wilson Lee Flores (The Philippine Star) - January 31, 2016 - 9:00am

One of the true secrets to sustaining long-term success and strengthening ourselves against competition — whether in big business or small, in your chosen profession, and even in the non-profit sector — is good customer service. As Apple CEO Steve Jobs once advised: “Get closer than ever to your customers — so close that you tell them what they need well before they realize it themselves.”

Recently, I was surprised to discover that even an unchallenged monopoly like Meralco, distributing electrical power throughout Metro Manila and nearby provinces, is committed to decisively upgrading its customer service under the leadership of chairman Manuel “Manny” V. Pangilinan and president Oscar S. Reyes.

Directly in charge of continuously improving customer service is Al S. Panlilio, Meralco senior vice president, who heads Customer Retail Services, Corporate Marketing and Communications. A former basketball athlete since his school years, he is also president of the MVP Sports Foundation. He recently gave the STAR an exclusive interview.

PHILIPPINE STAR: Meralco has long been an unchallenged monopoly.  Why is your company now consciously and proactively promoting better customer service through your “Meralco Biz Partners” and other strategies?

AL S. PANLILIO: Our mindset should not be that of a monopoly. I feel that we could (always) improve our customer service. Also, soon the market will open up. In June 2013, a segment of this industry was open. Here in Meralco, we want to be innovative. We want to create a culture of customer-centricity in Meralco.

I also originally came from PLDT which is customer-centered and my first boss there was former Department of Public Works and Highways Secretary Ping de Jesus. He told me then: “Our people are well-trained and well-equipped, but they don’t know how to compete.” At that time, Globe Telecom was already competitive.

Our boss MVP is also customer-focused and wants PLDT and also Meralco to be competitive. Initially, MVP said Meralco is boring, because we have only one product, but I told him we can be very innovative.

How does any business become more “customer-centric”?

Know, understand and care for customers more. Before, we in Meralco knew our customers through the electric meter only.

Our aspiration is to be a total energy solutions partner, to know not only the needs, wants but also the changing lifestyle patterns or business challenges of customers. We are aware that customers are now changing, they are more demanding, more tech-savvy, and we want to always improve how we service our customers.

With the digital pivot, we at Meralco want to use digital platforms to serve customers better, like allowing people to apply for Meralco accounts online, and also (go online) for payment of bills. This customer-centric mindset and such ideas can apply to other businesses, too.

What goals do you have in Meralco behind this vigorous push for better customer service, which could also apply to other businesses?

We have two major plans. No. 1, We want to improve our sales and grow revenue. You might wonder how we can achieve more revenue if we give technical advice to SMEs on how to lower their power consumption? If the SMEs grow in revenues and profits, most of them will expand and therefore we’ll gain more overall business.

I believe Meralco’s support for SMEs is ultimately for the benefit of national progress, part of nation-building when we help SMEs earn more, thus creating more jobs.

Our second goal in enhancing customer service is to make Meralco softer and kinder in terms of public service.

Is it true you constantly seek to “measure the pulse” of Meralco customers? Is this a strategy other businesses big or small can emulate?

Yes. We want our customers to be happy about our service and not only see us as a burden. Last December during Christmas, I went on vacation to Bhutan, and in that country they have this thing called “Gross Happiness Index.” I saw no beggars there. The king gave everybody land where they can raise their own foods and to sell the excess produce. For me, it’s Shangri-la: a beautiful place caught in time.

At Meralco, we want our customers to be happy with us. Yes, we seek to know how customers feel. Internally, we measure the customer satisfaction index (CSI). We do this with third- party surveys of customers.

What changes has Meralco undertaken recently to improve customer service?

Before the entry of MVP into Meralco, there was no customer segmentation. We are now more customer-centric. Since 2010, we have restructured the Customer Retail Group. We had 5.2 million customers then. I realize we can segment our markets into residential, which includes homes and micro-businesses using below five kilowatts of electricity; then there’s the big corporate customers who number 2,000 firms.

Who are your SME customers and who are the big corporate customers?

SME businesses are those that utilize electric power of between five kilowatts to 499 kilowatts, and we are building up our “Meralco Biz Partners” program to assist them to become more efficient and therefore become more successful.

The big corporate accounts include the semi-conductor factories, Lucio Tan’s Asia Brewery, Philip Morris Fortune Tobacco, the top developers like Megaworld, Robinsons and Ayala, etc. For these big corporate sccounts, we have relation managers, each person taking care of one corporate customer, or a ratio of one to one.

How do you assess SME businesses and what support do you offer SMEs?

We believe that the country’s SME businesses need more support and technical advice. The stories of SME businesses are often very dramatic — either they expand or they bust.

We provide businesses free consultancy, we review actual electricity consumption patterns. Aside from creating customer-focused teams, Meralco will have more proactive communication and innovative programs so customers can save on costs by managing consumption. SMEs can contact us, so we can offer services like the Peak/Off-Peak option which offers reduced power rates based on time of use.

Meralco Biz Partners also has Accredited Meralco Contractors program with which we assist SMEs to get the good and right technical suppliers when establishing new operations. We also offer customers the option to change from post-paid to prepaid, also allowing online monitoring of one’s electric consumption by meter.

In terms of customer service, what is your dream project?

Our dream in Meralco is to someday use advanced technology to keep track of all the electric power consumption of all our customers, so that instead of customers calling us about power outages or interruption, we’ll be the ones calling your cellphone to tell you there’s a problem in your area and that in one hour, repair or restoration will be finished.

Is it true that, even in regions of the Philippines which are not your customers, Meralco has given help during natural calamities?

Yes, we at Meralco provide public service to regions in the Philippines which are not our franchise areas. For example, during the last typhoon during Christmas, it was Meralco chairman Manny V. Pangilinan who offered to send 25 mechanized trucks and 70 personnel to Mindoro to help restore electric power. It was MVP who offered to Mindoro through Congressman Rey Umali.

In Sorsogon province of the Bicol region, it was Senator Chiz Escudero who called me up requesting help for his province in restoring electric power there.

How can SME entrepreneurs contact Meralco Biz Partners for free consultancy and other support?

Please call our hotline (16210) or go to our Internet website or contact us via social media like @meralco on Twitter and

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