When Chipo Mkandla moved to the United States from Zimbabwe to work in hospitality, she never imagined she’d end up at an energy company. It turns out the roles had more in common than she thought.
Mkandla is part of Duke Energy’s customer experience team, and her job is to study the interactions between customers and the company and see if she can find ways to improve them.
She looks at survey results, listens to customer calls, looks at web traffic and other data to determine if there are processes the company can change or products they can create to make customers’ lives easier. Working at a hotel, she said, that was the goal, too.
“We want to make sure customers have the best experience of whatever we’re providing,” Mkandla said. “At a utility, when we talk about powering the lives of our customers, we really do that. They depend on us for everything that happens.”
Since joining Duke Energy in 2005, Mkandla has worked with groups in Florida, Midwest and the Carolinas to improve operations in generation, transmission and supply chain, among others. She helped monitor the effects of new projects including an outage map that allows customers to report or view outage details online rather than calling, and a more interactive phone system when customers call Duke Energy.
She was part of a team in 2019 that won a James. B. Duke Award, the company’s highest employee honor, for their work on an app for builders and developers to simplify their communication with the company. Before the app, builders had to call Duke Energy to find details on their work orders or contact information for their engineer. For builders who manage hundreds of projects simultaneously, it was a frustrating and time-consuming process. Now, they can create work orders and check their status when it's convenient.
For Mkandla, the most rewarding part is the company can measure the improvement in the customers’ experiences. Since 2018, Duke Energy has been using Net Promoter Score surveys to monitor customer satisfaction and identify areas of improvement. The survey asks customers about their willingness to recommend Duke Energy based on specific interactions like installing a streetlight or restoring power.
After releasing the builder app, Net Promoter Score data for this group of customers significantly improved.
“You see a difference,” she said, “and you’re like, ‘Alright, I am making a difference. Things are actually working.’”
For the builder app, Mkandla met with customers to learn what Duke Energy could do better, but her team uses several methods to hear from customers. Her current project is focused on figuring out which channels customers prefer for certain actions like starting or stopping service. She works with a team, including industrial engineers and customer care operations analysts, who listened to more than 2,000 customer calls to document the steps customers take to complete the task. They record how many times a customer has to call, how long the call takes and how easy or difficult it was for the customer to navigate the phone menu or website.
With their findings, Mkandla’s team looks at what changes they can make to the website, information they can provide to call center representatives or technology they can use to create something that will improve the process. They bring in experts from the different departments involved and find a solution.
“With technology and new innovations, customers are expecting more from us,” she said. “We’re looking at what technology we can use, what software is out there and how we can get ahead of it so we can be sure we’re providing services that are valuable for our customers.”
In high school, Mkandla said she wondered when she would ever use the lessons they learned about electricity – she just passed the exam and moved on. Years later, she’s still surprised that she’s answering questions about transmission lines and explaining why outages happen, but she’s glad she took a chance on the industry.
Working in different departments has helped deepen her understanding and develop her skills to build a career that she loves.
“Once I started and got to understand the different departments and services, I was able to move into different aspects of Duke Energy that I never knew existed,” she said. “If you’re thinking, ‘I don’t know what they do. I’d never be able to find a job there,’ think again.”
This the first in a series of employee features for Women’s History Month. Nationally women make up 20 percent of utility industry employees, and Duke Energy is on a mission to increase diversity and strengthen a culture than supports it. By highlighting these women who in excel in roles they didn’t expect to have, we hope to inspire the next generation of women in energy.