Best Practice: Bristol Tennessee Essential Services

How an East Tennessee utility uses a focused team to address critical problems fast


Diagram: BTES Business Model
Two-time TNCPE Excellence Award winner Bristol Tennessee Essential Services (BTES) has a system in place to quickly address problems while maintaining its core values: An agile Continuous Improvement Team (CIT) composed of key employees from each department, as well as critical business partners.

The utility’s CIT meets every Monday to discuss ongoing projects and organizational issues. By keeping the BTES Business Model (diagram) in mind, the team is able to focus continuous improvement efforts on the areas that are most important to the organization’s success.  

During the meetings, the CIT reviews all communications with its customers from the previous week and categorizes each communication as either a positive or opportunity for improvement (OFI) for each department. A “positive” is defined as a customer purchasing a product, adding a service, or giving a positive remark. BTES defines an “OFI” as anything a customer had to ask about that they should have had access to the information already. BTES’ mindset is to answer questions before their customers have to ask and, if they have to ask, then that is an opportunity for them to improve their processes.

The team is poised to make quick decisions because the CEO, senior leaders, and representatives from all departments participate. This “all hands” approach also provides a measure of risk protection, because many different viewpoints are available and data is required.

While execution is quick, CIT decisions are still grounded in the BTES approach to performance improvement: By focusing on the organization’s mission, vision, values, and key success factors, improvements are always tied to the overall strategic planning process. And in the true spirit of continuous improvement, outcomes are reviewed at later meetings.

Here’s an example of the BTES CIT team in action:

An opportunity for improvement, identified as “Last Day to Pay” kept popping up in the CIT’s top five OFIs for the customer service department. Many customers were calling to ask for the last day they could pay their bill prior to being cut off from services, taking up time the customer service team could focus elsewhere and inconveniencing the customer with having to ask.

The CIT and customer service department evaluated their existing process and customer habits, and discussed the situation with customer service representatives.

"We wanted to see if the same customers were calling each month, and if they were calling prior to receiving a late notice,” explains Leslie Blevins, BTES Customer Relations Representative and TNCPE Examiner.

"We realized many customers were calling to ask for the cutoff date before they were receiving their late notice, which included last-day-to-pay information,” Blevins says. “To reduce the number of calls, we needed to provide customers with the last day to pay date sooner.”

The team quickly revised the original bill to include the last day to pay information. Now, BTES customers can see their last day to pay when they receive the original bill in the mail.

"Today, this OFI is rarely in our top five," Blevins says.

Circling back to the business model, this effort literally hits the BTES bull’s eye: Customers. It also incorporates the key processes that BTES has in place for success.

Bristol Tennessee Essential Services (BTES) is a municipally-owned electric utility that also provides an advanced fiber optic network that supports its electric system and offers Internet, telephone and cable television services. BTES provides service to over 33,000 electric customers and over 17,000 fiber customers in a 280-square-mile service area in the City of Bristol and Sullivan County, Tennessee. The organization offers the fastest Internet available anywhere in the U.S., with speeds of 10 Gigabits per second available to every home and business in its service area.

TNCPE is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization.

2525 Perimeter Place Drive, Suite 122. Nashville, TN 37214-3773. (615) 889-8323.