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Leveraging the Public Cloud to Improve Customer Experience

Staff augmentation and architectural guidance leads to reduced customer calls through digital engagement

A history built on technology

For more than a century, this utility company has been a pioneer in the energy sector. From breaking ground in hydroelectric power to contracting renewable energy, technology has driven their success in one of the U.S.’s largest residential markets.

Continuing its history of using technology in innovative ways, the company decided it was time to digitally transform its business to meet the needs of today’s online customers.

Changing the customer experience

With more than four million incoming customer calls per year, the company had to spend $15 million on contact center operations to keep up with the volume.

Looking for ways to cut contact center costs and improve customer engagement, the company examined the types of calls coming in. They discovered that nearly all calls required low-touch interaction with a customer service representative.

The percentage of calls received broke down to:

  • 33 percent for explain my bill
  • 33 percent for service event (such as a resident moving)
  • 11 percent for service interruption
  • 10 percent for pay my bill
  • 9 percent for financial assistance

The company believed building out the capabilities of its website and customer-facing applications could dramatically reduce the number calls it received while providing a better customer experience.

Following its findings, the company started an initiative that aspired to provide such a high quality of service through its e-commerce site and mobile applications that customers wouldn’t need to call for assistance.

Trouble in the cloud

The company saw Amazon Web Services (AWS) as a more efficient and stable option for providing e-commerce services. Working out of AWS would allow the Utility's application developers to access VMs at speed and scale, and their website would benefit from high-availability hosting.

Although AWS could deliver the platform needed, the company didn’t have the cloud resources to design and operate an AWS architecture capable of supporting a major business initiative. They also lacked process and workflow integration with enterprise systems like ServiceNow, which had led to minimal templates and no standard input forms. Their cloud team frequently had to email requesters for clarification.

Also problematic was the fact that no documentation existed for basic AWS tasks, like setting up a new account or gaining access to servers. As it stood, AWS requests were taking weeks to close.

The company needed a partner that could advise on a sophisticated AWS architecture, close the IT skills gaps and provide immediate assistance to delays in provisioning AWS resources.

Bring in the experts

WWT used our cloud expertise to help the company apply governance, reliability and efficiency to its AWS architecture and mature its cloud processes.

The company initially worked with another vendor and AWS to create a secure ingress and egress routing architecture for their overall enterprise cloud. Due to our deep understanding of their networking in the cloud and experience in AWS networking, we were pulled in to quickly troubleshoot issues related to deployment, advise on best practices and resolve the ongoing concerns of cloud consumers.

We started our engagement with an audit of the company’s AWS security policies. During this process, we identified a potential vulnerability in an AWS S3 bucket. We also identified discrepancies between on-premise identity and access management (IAM) and those in AWS.

To address the issue of S3 security, we worked to develop a CloudWatch event that watches S3 API operations and triggers a Lambda script if certain criteria are met. For instance, if someone tries to delete an AWS S3 bucket encryption policy, or make a bucket or object public that doesn’t have an exception, the company’s cloud staff is notified via an SNS notification triggered by the same Lambda.

We also unified IAM policies by requiring that AWS IAM policies for users match their rights based on on-premise governance. The long-term goal is to sync this process through automation.

Shifting paradigms for infrastructure

As part of our engagement, we sought to find ways to bring automation and consistency to the company’s cloud deployments. Working with the cloud staff, we defined a standardized approach for Infrastructure as Code (IaC) toolsets.

With our architect’s background in DevOps and automation, we developed infrastructure templates for both Terraform (Hashicorp) and AWS CloudFormation to enable the customer to quickly and easily deploy repeatable infrastructure across their AWS accounts. The company’s cloud team is excited about the impact of IaC and together we're working to use the toolset in line with their longer-term goal of driving more automation into processes.

With this initial use case addressed, the company's cloud team began discussions with other departments to streamline on-premise IaC deployment needs using the many provider plug-ins that Terraform supports.

A helping hand

Lastly, we augmented the company's cloud team with one of our AWS architects.

By sitting next to the company's microservices and web development teams, our architect has been able to submit snap tickets, eliminating the need for cloud staff to clarify requests through email. He’s also documenting FAQs related to AWS, which will be migrated to a ServiceNow knowledge base for easier troubleshooting.

From cloud to the customer's customer

With our architect handling operations and management for cloud requests, the company’s developers can now provision AWS resources in less than 30 minutes, whereas previously the process averaged two weeks. The cloud team is no longer seen as a bottleneck to application development but rather as an enabler of digital transformation.

After securing and improving upon its AWS design, the company’s customer-facing website is now hosted entirely in the cloud with developers using Sitecore to customize the e-commerce site and mobile applications based on user behavior.

Application developers next task is rolling out a website feature that lets customers who are moving enter their new address and automatically have their utility service transferred over. This is predicted to further reduce the number of calls the company receives.

Although the company will never eliminate customer calls completely, it can count on being an industry leader for customer engagement now that they have a platform for secure, efficient and fast application development.