Happy to Help: An Interview with our Essential Customer Service Colleagues

This month at Essential, we’re shining a light on our customer service team members as part of National Customer Service Week. NCSW was first observed in 1984 by the International Customer Service Association (now PACE), and officially designated by Congress in 1992. It has become one of the most observed business occasions around the globe.

At the Essential Utilities call centers for Aqua and Peoples, first-line staff work tirelessly to keep customers informed and satisfied. They are helping, assisting, solving and guiding, and are the unsung heroes of almost every business operation and vital to the long-term success of the company.

Essential sat down with two of our customer service colleagues to learn more about their backgrounds, discuss what they take pride in about their important roles, why they continue to choose Essential, and how a famous sandwich can be an analogy for success.

Joi Patterson is a recently promoted Call Center Supervisor for Peoples Natural Gas in Pittsburgh, Pa. She was hired as a Customer Service Representative in 2015 and worked her way up to a Senior Call Rep and now Supervisor. She oversees a team of 16 and is focused on CSR retention, growth and development.

Carolyn Frank is a Customer Care Administrator for Aqua in Bryn Mawr, Pa. She has been with the company since 2006 when she was hired as a Customer Service Rep. Prior to that, she worked as a customer service supervisor in the insurance industry and as a caregiver for Alzheimer’s patients.

Pride and Professionalism

What do you love most about your job? What are you most proud of or find the most rewarding about a career in customer service?

JP: “This is not your average customer service – what you do affects someone’s life. Each customer is like your own personal client. There are so many opportunities to make lives better, and we go above and beyond to help our customers. I have a natural compassion for people, and I love to be able to save the day and make things better for customers and co-workers. My friends refer to me as ‘the gas girl,’ and I take pride in that. I am grateful to be an Essential employee and I want to be a leader for others to look up to.”

CF: “I love interacting with customers. It’s the only job where you get to speak with people in all walks of life and from different backgrounds. I love helping people and helping them fix their problems. I always show a lot of empathy to people. During the most recent ice storm in Texas, I had customers tell me they were going to give up. I said to them, ‘no you’re not. You’re going to rebuild.’ We get to know our customers. We care about them. Throughout the events of the last year – COVID, the Texas ice storm, Hurricane Ida – my immediate management has remained steadfast in their commitment to our customers and continued to show concern for our wellbeing even amidst all of the change.”

Career Growth and Development

Talk to us about the growth and development in your career. How have you grown in your role and what do you see for growth and development in the company as a whole?

JP: “Customer service is the base of any organization – it’s the front line. Reps can take skills learned in customer service and apply them in other departments. The snowballing of experience in other departments is huge – so many different parts to make the truck work! As the company grows and changes, it creates so many more opportunities for growth. A chance to work in other locations while staying at the same company is exciting. I achieved my goal of becoming a supervisor – something I’ve always wanted! I’m a natural born leader and I truly care about people. It’s like ordering a Primanti Bros. sandwich (the long-running Pittsburgh-born sandwich chain) – you start with the basic sandwich and as your grow throughout your career, you start adding more things to the sandwich. Then eventually you add the fries and coleslaw and a drink. You appreciate and love the whole meal and the journey you took to get there!”

CF: “I’ve always worked in customer service because I love working with people. Aqua is a big game player. They are going to continue to grow, and opportunity is going to continue to develop. When I started at the company, Aqua was only in three states – now they’re in eight! They’re focused on investing in people for the future. Upper management is very involved, including our CEO. In many companies the CEO is untouchable, but ours is so involved. He gets to know the staff and provides weekly updates to keep everyone engaged, even while we’re working remote. You can see they really care.”

Commitment to Diversity & Inclusion

What do Essential’s DE&I initiatives mean to you?

JP: “Essential’s commitment to diversity and inclusion means I don’t have to live two lives. I can come to work being myself and know that I am safe and respected. I hope our employees can view the world as a salad bowl, not a melting pot. If they can get along with folks of different backgrounds and perspectives at work, they can do that in their everyday life. Embrace that! Essential is proud of their employees – it’s not only a job, but also a culture and a whole new dynamic that can change your life. I feel safe here.”

CF: “Essential started [Diversity, Black and Women’s Employee] Resource Groups to support employees at all levels in their career growth, and they are excellent! They make sure the company follows the path of diversity and inclusion. It’s not a company that makes people feel out of place. You won’t feel like a stranger here. I see other employees in upper management who look like me. I am a part of this company no matter my race or gender, and we all have one goal: to provide Earth’s most essential resource.

Closing Thoughts

Any closing thoughts or words of advice you want to share?

JP: “It’s more than a company – it’s a culture. If you work hard, plan to retire here.”

CF: “It’s easy to think of my coworkers as family. Be as honest as you can be and be a steward of the company.” 

The company’s customer service team members are essential in every sense of the word – vital, indispensable, crucial and fundamental to the success of our company and our mission to provide the world’s most essential utilities. We celebrate them every day. Thank you to Joi and Carolyn for sharing your stories.

This is part of the Essential Careers and Culture blog series.