Talking Utilities with Chris Cardenas, VP of Customer Service at Xcel Energy

by Refine Search on in Blog, Energy

At Refine Search, we regularly have the pleasure of connecting many talented and insightful professionals with stimulating roles that fit their expertise. These relationships often result in rewarding conversations that shed light on the modern state of certain industries, roles, and environments. Today we’re showcasing a recent conversation we had with Chris Cardenas, a bright individual we placed in the VP of Customer Service role at Xcel Energy.

Chris, tell us about your current role.

As the Vice President of Customer service for one of the leading utility companies in America, there’s a lot that goes into my position. Overseeing residential and enterprise support, the customer engagement strategy, and focusing on digital channels are a few of my top priorities. I also have responsibility for our billing department as well as credit & collections, where I interface with customers on a daily basis. Building relationships by getting to understand what inspires, drives, and motivates people is the best part of my job.

How did your past positions lead you to where you are today?

It sometimes surprises people to learn that I began my career in finance. After receiving my masters and spending some time in the field, it became apparent that finance just didn’t meet my expectations nor fully utilize my leaderships skills. After reflecting on my desire to inspire and motivate others, customer care became my true calling. I’m thankful for my past in finance because it uncovered my true passion and drove me to be successful in the area I work in today.

What was your experience like engaging with Refine Search?

Engaging with Refine Search was the best experience I’ve ever had working with a recruiter or search firm. At the time, I was working on the East Coast and desired to move closer to my family. The Refine Search team put me at ease through open conversations about positions that would provide value to my career. They didn’t just vet me in an impersonal fashion, but rather dug into what I desired. I’m thankful that my professional network led me to Refine Search, and that they led me to my current role with Xcel Energy.

What’s your advice to those new to the utility industry?

The utility industry is unlike any other, and those new to it should come in with an open mind. The culture in this sector is different and takes getting used to, but it’s one that helps individuals thrive. Utilities are changing, becoming more and more competitive by the day. Growing up with a Marine as a father, I moved around a lot as a child. During that time, I learned how to adapt to new cultures and understand the mindset of different people, and it is these skills that helped me when I was new to utilities.

How has the utility industry changed in the last 10 years?

From a technology perspective, the utility industry has matured significantly in the last decade. I’m proud to say that Xcel Energy is leading the way here, embracing technology more deeply than any other utility company I’ve had the pleasure of visiting or benchmarking against. This stems from a mindset that we’re not just poles and wires; we’re attempting to provide reliable electricity and gas service safely and at a lower cost. In order to do that, we have to remain adaptable and assimilate into environments facing disruptive technologies. Automation, artificial intelligence and data analytics are just some of the key drivers currently shaping the industry.

What does the future of the utility industry look like?

The future of utilities will be even more entrenched in technology. Consumers want technology at their fingertips, so utility companies have to support getting information about real-time customer consumption into mobile apps. At the same time, reliability will play an increasingly important role with innovations such as isolated outages and self-healing grids. Finally, the future of utilities is carbon-free. Xcel Energy is on the forefront of that, pledging to deliver 100% carbon-free energy by 2050.

Regarding customer satisfaction, what do you think is the single most important factor customers want or need in today’s market?

Customers want utility companies to know them when they call in and go even further by predicting the reason why they’re calling in order to better serve them. Utilities have massive amounts of information on every consumer, ranging from payment history, outage reports, and number of times that customer has contacted the company through the phone or web. This data and much more can be leveraged to provide a first-rate customer experience. If a customer calls in every week for the last two months, representatives should notice that and proactively seek to resolve next week’s potential issue or reason for calling. By making use of that data, customers aren’t forced to repeat their history with every call and receive a customized and efficient experience.

What’s the most memorable moment from your professional life?

One of my proudest professional achievements was creating what we called a Customer 360 view. A customer relationship management tool we had been using since 1999 was out-of-date and costly to continue operating. Rather than spending a prohibitive amount on implementing a brand-new system, I was able to leverage our company’s data to provide a clearer view of the customer. Based on a phone number, vast amounts of customer information were at the fingertips of our representatives, and they were trained to recognize patterns and red flags. This placed every customer-facing employee on the same page, setting the foundation for excellent customer service. That project was implemented in just six months at a fraction of the cost of other systems, and ended up saving the company $40 million dollars in five years. Not only was it a financial success, but it was a joy to uncover customer penchants and motivations, something that inspired me to follow a customer service career path in the first place.

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