An eternal optimist, Brenda Jackson has always believed that nothing is impossible and that “no” should never be perceived as the final answer. Today, with a recent company merger behind her and the deregulation of electric utility on the horizon, Jackson’s solution-oriented thinking is about to pay off.
As vice president of customer service for Texas Electric, one of 10 companies held by Texas Utilities Co., Jackson’s charges include 350 employees and 67 offices. Her responsibilities: building and maintaining relationships with residential and corporate customers. “This is where the rubber meets the road,” says the Aberdeen, Maryland, native. And in today’s changing utility environment, customer service has greater value than ever before.
Americans spend more than $200 billion per year to ensure that when they flip the switch, the lights go on. Once an arena of little monopolies, recent federal and state regulatory legislation has been set into motion in order to create an open market. Now the entities receiving those energy dollars are about to change and the competition for customers will be intense. Four states have passed deregulation laws, and by the end of the century the shift will be nationwide.
Texas’ day at the races is not far off. Last year, Gov. George Bush mandated deregulation by 2001. Texas Utilities, which raked in $6.6 billion in revenues last year to rank seventh in the country, saw the writing on the wall in 1992 and began preparations to brave this new frontier. A handpicked steering committee of four was charged with reengineering the corporation. Jackson, then vice president of customer operations for TU Services (another Texas Utilities company), was on that team, and many of the changes that followed were in her area.
In less than two years, Jackson spearheaded drastic changes that included consolidating four customer call centers into one, implementing voice response technology, redesigning the billing system and reducing the number of bad debt charge-offs by 50%. The timetable was breakneck, but Jackson knew how to inspire her people. Her secret: “Create an environment that makes it more comfortable to change than to stay the same.” The work that was done has already saved the company $200 million.
To further gain the competitive edge, in August, Texas Utilities merged with Enserch Corp., a natural gas company that owns the largest natural gas distribution firm in Texas. The new company, which retains the name Texas Utilities, serves over 2.8 million customers who can now access one provider for all their needs. And the recent purchase of Lufkin- Conroe Communications, the fourth-largest local telephone company in Texas, will allow Texas Utilities to venture into telecommunications and expand its customer base.
With the understanding that areas touching customers would be affected most, Jackson and her counterpart at Enserch were at the forefront of the merger. Given the task of examining customer operations with a fine- tooth comb, they “created a marriage of two different cultures,” explains Jackson, which wasn’t easy. Between gas and electricity, regulations differ as do basic languages — electricity is sold by