T&D World Magazine

Ameren Illinois Utilities Add 'Virtual Hold' Feature for Customer Calls

Ameren Illinois Utilities (AmerenCILCO, AmerenCIPS and AmerenIP) recently added a "virtual hold" feature to their automated voice response unit (VRU) to improve service when customers call. With the feature, customers placed on "hold" for non-emergency calls can now choose to be called back instead of remaining on the line for a customer service representative.

When customers choose to speak to a representative, the VRU informs them of the expected wait time and asks if they would prefer to remain on hold or have their call returned without losing their place in line. Any customer who chooses the virtual hold feature records a call-back number and a name. Using the recorded information, the service later dials the number, asks for the person who left the message and connects the customer with the next available representative -- all within the expected wait time.

Virtual Hold Technology also allows customers to change their minds about callbacks. Customers who originally opted to wait on hold are again prompted after one minute to determine if they would now like to use Virtual Hold. Customers will only be prompted one time.

The service is available during core business hours, weekdays, when estimated wait times are longer than two minutes, for billing, start/stop service and other calls. Customer calls about an electric or natural gas emergency will continue to remain a priority and will be connected immediately to an available representative.

"This feature is yet another example of Ameren's commitment to providing our customers with performance-leading service," said Scott Cisel, president, Illinois Energy Delivery. "Virtual Hold allows a caller to resume normal activities while waiting to speak with an Ameren customer service representative."

Since the companies first made the feature available to customers in mid- November, approximately 50% of callers have taken advantage of the call-back option.

"Our customers continue to tell us that they want choices when it comes to working with their utility company," Cisel said. "This function, along with the contact centers' pursuit of performance excellence, a range of payment options, added online services, and improvements in storm restoration and communications, all support our objectives to listen to our customers and continuously make improvements based on their feedback."

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