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Illustration by Nicolas Vicent

Highly effective leaders can create the type of customer-centric environment in which frontline staff feel strongly committed to delivering exceptional service to their customers. The leaders who stand out are those who are able to influence others through the actions that they exhibit on a daily basis—not just their words—inspiring others to reach their potential.

These types of leaders are typically found in world-class operations that boast high levels of customer and employee satisfaction. Take, for instance, Horizon Utilities Corporation’s customer service operation, which has achieved customer satisfaction ratings of over 90% for more than a decade under the leadership of Vice President of Customer Services Eileen Campbell.

Last October, Campbell was recognized by the Customer Service Professionals Network (CSPN) with the VP of the Year Award at its 17th annual CSPN Awards Gala. The award recognizes superior thinking, creativity and execution—and leaders who define the direction of change and effect change by exemplifying the ideal qualities.

A Passionate Customer and Community Champion

Eileen Campbell

Campbell has a keen understanding of Horizon’s customers and the critical role that the utility provider plays in their lives. That is due, in part, to her long tenure with the company. In 1980, Campbell began working at Hamilton Hydro Services in Hamilton, Ontario, as a customer service representative. Over the next 20 years, she progressed through various roles in the customer care operation while attending nearby McMaster University for Management Studies.

In 2000, when five municipalities were amalgamated into the new City of Hamilton, the utility providers likewise merged. As the five utilities came together to form one organization, Campbell successfully led multiple integration projects, and was promoted to director of customer service. In 2005, Hamilton Hydro and St. Catharines Hydro Utility Services merged to form Horizon Utilities, the third largest municipality-owned electricity distributor in Ontario. The following year, Campbell was promoted to VP of customer services.

Eileen has been an integral force in the realization of a new company that will be formed in 2017 through a merger of Horizon Utilities, Enersource, and PowerStream and the acquisition of Hydro One Brampton. This is a very important time for customers, shareholders, the City of Hamilton and the City of St. Catharines. The transaction represents an exciting opportunity and considerable value to customers and the municipalities. In fact, Eileen has been selected as the VP of Customer Services for the new company that will serve almost 1 million electricity customers and over 250,000 municipal water customers across the Greater Toronto and Hamilton areas.

Campbell brings to her role much more than a deep knowledge of the job. Her passion and dedication to helping others have been instrumental in her success in direct interactions with customers, as well as in leading customer initiatives.

“I’ve been very fortunate to have a career that allows me to follow my passion and link customers, not only to what we do here at Horizon, but to other services within the community,” she says. “If someone is having trouble paying their electricity bill, there are probably other areas in which they could use assistance. Being able to connect our customers to help within the community is very satisfying. At the end of the day, you feel like you’ve made a difference in their lives.”

As a leader in the utilities sector, Campbell is mindful of her operation’s dual role as the customers’ advocate and as the unit that sends out the bills. “To the customer, we’re accountable for the total bill,” she says, adding that, in the current economic climate, there have been industrywide concerns about affordability and rising energy costs. “There are a number of elements that are taking place which are outside of our control,” she notes.

One of Campbell’s key challenges is to drive cost efficiencies while enhancing the customer experience. “Every dollar that we spend goes into customer rates,” she explains. “We need to invest wisely to ensure that we have the proper infrastructure for our customers, and also invest in technologies that the customers want and that they can utilize to help them manage their own electricity costs. There is no point in putting in a new system if it’s not going to produce efficiencies or benefit our customers. We want to make sure that we’re making the right decisions for those win-win outcomes for our customers and the business.”

Leading by Example

Caring about customers, showing empathy and compassion for others, taking pride in your profession—these are qualities that cannot be taught in a classroom. Instead, customer service staff tend to take their cues from their leaders. They model their behavior on what they see demonstrated each and every day.

Fortunately, Campbell is not an executive who is removed from the day-to-day activities that take place in the contact center. She is a hands-on leader who enjoys being in the thick of things and is always ready to lend an ear or offer advice. “I like to be accessible if people want to just pop their head in and talk through something or bounce some ideas off of me. My door is always open for that,” she says.

Volunteering in the community: Eileen Campbell, on right, with Director of Customer Service Shelley Parker serving meals at a Gala Dinner event to support the participants of Wesley Urban Ministries’ Housing & Homelessness Services.

For Campbell, being accessible extends beyond her team and office. “Part of my leadership role is ensuring that our key customers know how to reach me. I like to close the loop with our customers and make sure that their issues are fully resolved.” That includes the local community in which Campbell is actively involved and regularly volunteers her time and experience.

It’s not surprising that Campbell proactively encourages junior staff members to grow their skills. She is a firm believer in continuous learning for life. “That is something that I’m very engaged in,” she notes. “For me, it’s about staying current with customer service trends to stay ahead of the curve as far as what our customers expect from us. For my team, it’s providing them with support and encouragement to do the same.”

Campbell’s lead-by-example philosophy is not strictly focused on career development or big-picture issues. It can apply to something as simple as smiling on the phone. “When I talk to customers on the phone, even though they can’t see me, I’m smiling,” she says. “I am told that my enthusiasm and willingness to help resolve issues comes through loud and clear.”

Supporting the Most Valuable Asset

Because Campbell has spent time working as a CSR, she knows all too well the difference that having supportive leadership can make. She strives to ensure that frontline staff always have tools that are easy to use and that help them to do their job well. For Campbell, that means keeping current with contact center tools and technology that are on the horizon, as well as keeping a pulse on evolving customer expectations and needs.

“The tools our agents need change as our customers’ needs change,” she explains. “For example, when we implemented smart meters, we were looking at 24 hours of data. The CSRs needed to be able to see that data graphed quickly so they could talk about the peaks with the customers, without having to go through reams of Excel sheets, which is fine if you only have six or 12 reads a year based on a billing cycle.”

In addition to technology support, Campbell recognizes from firsthand experience that the job itself is tough. She ensures that CSRs are well-supported by their supervisors and manager. “Our management team does a great job of taking care of their teams—making sure that they are available for escalations, and that the CSRs have the training that they need. Or by providing the support to allow them to take a breather for a few minutes if they’ve had a couple of stressful calls.”

Campbell also understands the important link between recognition and motivation. Thus, customer-centric behaviors are recognized and shared across the organization in numerous programs.

“Whenever there’s an example of good customer behavior, we showcase that throughout the organization,” Campbell says. “Encouraging or thanking CSRs for a job well done goes far, and it also demonstrates what good customer-centric behavior looks like to peers.”

In addition to recognition from supervisors, the company has a peer-to-peer recognition program in which employees can submit nominations for their colleagues. Campbell points out that the peer appreciation is one of the biggest motivators, particularly within the customer care center.

Learning for Life

When Campbell looks back on her time at Horizon Utilities, she is quick to credit former mentors, teams and units for the many accomplishments, awards and successes that she has been part of.

But when it comes to personal achievements, she points to her time on the front line. “I’m very proud that I started as a CSR, and that I had the opportunity to wear the headset and serve customers, and take advantage of opportunities to continue my education and set a career path,” she says. “Leading by example, for me, is learning for life, but it’s also about demonstrating those customer-centric behaviors. Part of that is researching and recognizing customer trends, what is coming down the pipeline and what customers are looking for in the future.”

She encourages other career-minded customer service professionals to get involved with industry groups like the CSPN to attend conferences, network with peers, and to keep informed about evolving customer expectations and trends.

“We can become very internalized and focused on what we do within our units, departments and organizations,” Campbell says. “We need to go outside of our own doors to see what’s going on, hear what customers are saying and investigate other best practices within the industry and outside of our industry.”

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