Open Door to Diversity

With its diverse makeup of employees, the Customer Service group is seen as a good example of how we’re working to advance our corporate D&I efforts.

July 10, 2020

FirstEnergy has more than 1,100 Customer Service employees who work on the front lines to address a variety of concerns. From residents reporting power outages to large companies requesting assistance with billing issues, this highly talented and diverse group of dedicated employees has a passion for helping others – and going above and beyond to meet the needs of our customers.

“Whether they work in one of our contact centers or manage a national account, Customer Service employees are often the first contact many of our customers have with FirstEnergy,” said Michelle Henry, vice president, Customer Service. “As the saying goes, ‘you never get a second chance to make a first impression.’ Customers are the heart of our business, and the efforts of these employees can greatly influence how our company is viewed by customers.”

Nearly half of Customer Service employees work in one of the company’s three contact centers – Fairlawn, Ohio; Fairmont, W.Va.; and Reading, Pa. “We think our employees should be a reflection of the communities we serve,” added Michelle. “It helps us relate to customers and better understand how we can resolve issues. Every one of our employees makes us stronger as a company, and we are proud of the diversity of our group.”

Michelle believes her team serves as a good example as FirstEnergy works to advance our corporate diversity and inclusion (D&I) efforts. When you look at the numbers, 80% of the Customer Service group is female or African American.

“In many ways, the employees who work in Customer Service are the voice of our company – both with customers and coworkers,” said Sam Belcher, president, FirstEnergy Utilities (FEU). “D&I is a key contributor to FirstEnergy’s success, and I’m proud of – and encouraged by – the example set by Customer Service employees in this important area.”

So how did the department evolve? According to Rick Schroth, general manager, Fairlawn Customer Contact Center, a lot of it has to do with the channels the group uses to hire new employees.

“It starts with a strong partnership with our staffing agencies. They know what qualities we look for in an employee and help identify applicants who can be successful in a customer service position,” explains Rick. “We also recruit from a variety of sources, including employee referrals, high schools and job fairs. Using these techniques allows us to identify talent from a greater and more diverse pool of candidates.”

Rick added: “One of the things that makes us unique – and attractive to potential job candidates – is that you don’t need to have a college degree to work in one of our customer contact centers. It’s a great way to get your foot in the door with a Fortune 300 company – and there are many development opportunities from there.”

Advancement Opportunities

There are a number of FirstEnergy employees who started their career at one of the contact centers and then moved on to a role in another part of the company. This is due in part to the Customer Service group’s Rotation of Assignment (ROA) program, where employees can experience other positions through job shadowing or by actually working in the job during a six-month rotation.

“The ROA program has been very successful in giving our customer service representatives (CSRs) the opportunity to advance their careers,” said Ken Strah, director, Customer Contact Centers. “Besides gaining experience in other Customer Service positions, participants receive valuable insight into how the different parts of our department work together to meet the needs of our customers.”•

In addition to the ROA program, the contact centers also hold career workshops for interested CSRs to help prepare them for applying for other positions. The workshops provide training on resume building, cover letter design and interview techniques.

“We’re also excited about our new Educate to Elevate Program,” continued Ken. “The Fairlawn Contact Center has partnered with the University of Akron and Stark State College to help interested CSRs achieve a college degree. Originally, the classes were taking place at the contact center, but due to COVID-19, they have switched to online learning. We’ve tried to make the program as convenient as possible, and we’re planning to expand the initiative to the Reading and Fairmont contact centers.”

Ahead of the Curve

Before Employee Business Resource Groups (EBRGs) were launched across the company, the first Helping Women Grow organization had already been formed at the Fairlawn Contact Center. In fact, it was used as a model to develop FirstEnergy’s other corporate EBRGs.

In addition to the corporate EBRGs, several company locations have started their own local chapters of the group. Sara Soto, manager, Reading Customer Contact Center, is not only involved with Reading’s chapter of Helping Women Grow, she helps to lead the Customer Service Department’s overall diversity and inclusion efforts.

“Helping Women Grow was formed based on feedback from CSRs who said we needed to do a better job helping single parents and other employees who were experiencing various hardships,” said Sara. “From this original concept, multiple EBRGs have been formed to support employees, and that’s one of the reasons our contact centers are known as good places to work.”

Tina Wolfe, a supervisor at the Fairmont Customer Contact Center, leads the Employee Empowerment Team, which is one of several D&I sub-teams that were formed at each contact center.

“D&I is a major focus at all of our contact centers,” said Tina. “Although the results from our recent D&I survey were good, there always is room for improvement. We have identified several areas we plan to focus on over the next year, including the review of our call routing and shift scheduling processes, and our home agent program.”

Making Employees Feel Welcome

A significant area of emphasis throughout the customer contact centers is ensuring that the employees who work there feel welcome and accepted at the company.

Keith March, general manager, Fairmont Customer Contact Center, said that leadership encourages employees to offer feedback and listens to their concerns. “To have a truly inclusive environment, you have to be willing to accept input,” he said. “And, when you address issues from an inclusion perspective, it opens the door for diversity.”

Rick added: “Regardless of your race, gender, religious beliefs, physical abilities, or sexual orientation, we strive to make everyone feel like a member of the FirstEnergy family.”

Employees at the Fairlawn Contact Center attend last year’s open house for the Educate to Elevate program – which helps interested customer service representatives achieve a college degree.