Qatar General Electricity & Water, previously part of the Ministry of Electricity and Water, is now an independent organisation with its own budget. All its activities have been deregulated, and Kahramaa operates on a commercial basis, having become involved in open tender specification, outsourcing, downsizing and privatising of the power and desalination plants, among others.
The Customer Service Department (CSD) is one of the core business departments. It acts as a focal point between customers (commercial, industrial, residential and governmental) and other departments in KAHRAMAA – especially the electricity and water department responsible for service connections. The CSD supports and assists KAHRAMAA growth by ensuring the delivery of electricity and water to customers effectively and efficiently, while maintaining open communication channels with customers for service improvement and continuous added value. In addition, it provides integration between transmission, distribution, technical services, sales, and customer services management.
Kahramaa recognised that a clearly defined and dedicated customer service strategy needed to be put into place. A number of objectives were defined: meeting customer needs, improving upon cash collection, improving procedures and processes, adopting new IT systems and new technology, and continuous updating of customers’ information.
The management goal was to create an entirely new image for the customer service department, which was achieved in various stages. For example, a new work environment was created when the department moved to a new building, and new centres were set up at various remote locations. Continuous communication among management, employees and customers was encouraged, and recognition schemes have been implemented.
With approximately 340 employees, the CSD is made up of the following sections:
- Reviews and approves building permit applications for electricity and water installations.
- Handles service connection applications, as well as internal electricity and water Installations inspection.
- Evaluates and licences electric contractors and consultants for electrical works.
Meter monitoring section
- Collects meter readings.
- Reports illegal connections.
- Performs services connection/disconnection.
- Collects customer payments and follows up customer accounts.
- Issues financial statistics reports.
- Sends out the bills.
Bill printing unit
- Generates bills.
- Maintains the computers.
- Introduces different programs and applications.
Customer care unit
- Directs the customers to the appropriate department.
- Answers customer questions, to save time and avoid frustration.
- Acts on customer suggestions.
- Undertakes consumer surveys.
Our goal is to be the region’s leader in customer services. We continuously benchmark best business practices in the utilities industry and other business related fields, and we share the knowledge we have gained with other official parties.
One of the more recent implementations has been the introduction of average billing. Mistakes had been discovered when bills were read and generated every two months, and as a consequence management decided to change the reading system from the traditional manual reading to average billing. One bill for both water and electricity is sent out monthly, although consumption details are given separately. Customer feedback assures us that they are satisfied with average bills, and we ensure that a manual reading takes place twice a year. This allows us to reconcile the amounts paid with actual consumption, and debits or credits are sent out with the next bill.
The introduction of average billing has reduced annual costs by almost $5 million.
MOVING TO EMR/AMR
Management has decided to introduce handheld devices for more efficient meter reading. Tenders have been called for, and the project is presently in the awarding phase. Once the project is operational, meters will be read monthly. A customer education programme will ensure that customers understand how handheld units ensure billing accuracy, and we do not expect any resistance to the change.
In addition KAHRAMAA has as one of its objectives the implementation of automatic meter reading (AMR) technology. We expect to finalise the feasibility study by the middle of next year, and if management is satisfied with the results the project will be ready for public tender by the end of 2004.
The project will, of course, mean that the existing conventional-type meters will be changed to electronic meters for both water and electricity. These meters will then be read remotely through telephone lines, RF, wireless and PLC, and this will reduce overheads and operational costs. In addition disconnection and reconnection can also be performed remotely, which will also reduce the need for staff in the field. The accurate data that will become available once AMR has been introduced will be used for statistical studies and for comparison studies of distribution and consumption of electricity and water supplies.
Before KAHRAMAA was privatised, the only way to settle accounts was by means of cash payments. Today customers are offered the following methods of payment:
- On site payment: Cash – Visa Card – MasterCard– NAPS.
- Phone payment using credit cards.
- Payments through Qatar General Post Offices.
- Bank cash payment at local banks
- Bank Direct Debit at local banks
- E-Government site using Visa and MasterCard.
THE BENEFITS OF CHANGE
Revenue was increased by Q.R.225 million ($61.64 million) in the first year after transformation to an independent corporation. We have finished the first stage of introducing a quality control management system, in order to qualify for ISO 9000 certification. In addition we have introduced several customer care initiatives, such as the stablishment of customer care e-mail; the introduction of a shift system operating seven days a week to provide optimum customer service; and the introduction of a Customer Queuing System.
All these changes have ensured that the customer care objectives of the customer service department are being met. This could not have been done without the direction and support of His Excellency Mr Abdullah bin Hamad Al Atteya, chairman of the board of directors.