Challenging times call for innovative approaches and strong leadership, especially if your job is to provide reliable and affordable energy service to more than 712,000 natural gas customers and 457,000 electric customers across Northern Indiana.
As director of Customer Contact Center for Northern Indiana Public Service Co. (NIPSCO), Debora Owen knows firsthand how today’s difficult economic climate has affected people in our region. She and her team have been at the forefront of NIPSCO’s efforts to help customers manage their monthly bills, and to assist low-income residents, elderly people on fixed incomes, or other customers working hard to make ends meet.
“Everyone on our team understands that these are challenging times,” Owen says, standing amid some of the more than 160 customer service representatives who work in NIPSCO’s Merrillville call center. “That’s why we are doing everything we can to keep customers’ rates as low as possible, to help people get the assistance they need, and to continue delivering the reliable, efficient service that they and their neighbors depend on.”
From a leadership standpoint, Owen says that means engaging her entire contact center team to make sure they are as responsive and proactive as possible. “We know that our team is the primary source of information and support for customers. As a leader, it’s my job to make sure our contact center representatives are always informed and ready to handle whatever issue or concern comes their way. I also am part of the broader NIPSCO effort to continuously find ways to improve and develop new programs and services that will better meet our customers’ needs now and in the future.”
Owen notes that a key factor working in NIPSCO customers’ favor recently has been lower energy costs. NIPSCO’s natural gas costs have been the lowest in Indiana for more than 13 months—in fact, among the lowest in the nation—and the company’s combined gas and electric costs remain in the lower half for all of Indiana utilities.
“Since Indiana utility costs compare favorably nationally, NIPSCO customers’ utility bills have among the lowest in the nation,” Owen says. “That has been a huge factor in helping our customers manage through this economic downturn.”
Owen’s NIPSCO career started 18 years ago. After working in various parts of the business, she settled in customer service and has spent more than half her career working to meet the needs of NIPSCO customers. As a front line supervisor, she helped establish NIPSCO’s first Quality Assurance department, responsible for monitoring the quality of customer calls. She later advanced to the position of Customer Contact Center manager and was promoted several years ago to director.
She quickly credits her leadership success to being a part of strong, dedicated and engaged NIPSCO teams. “My job is to provide talented people with the vision, mission, and resources they need to succeed, then get out of the way. I’m extremely proud of our team’s performance—especially during challenging times such as these. I believe it reflects our entire organization’s commitment to service and core values such as accountability, integrity and respect.”
Looking ahead, Owen says she is excited about the prospects for NIPSCO customers and Northern Indiana’s economy. “We have redoubled our efforts to develop new and innovative customer programs, and we will be investing more than $1 billion during the next several years to provide a cleaner and more efficient energy infrastructure to meet the region’s needs,” Owen says. “As a lifelong resident of this region, I know how important those investments are in maintaining and creating new jobs and promoting the economic climate that employers are looking for.”
For Owen, however, it always comes back to the customer. “Reliable energy, more jobs, a cleaner environment. Those things matter, and are a big part of what we do,” she says. “But directly helping customers who want to save energy, lower their monthly bills or simply make ends meet—that’s what I take the most pride in.”