Leading legacy industries into the 21st century is one of Irene Zaguskin’s specialties.
At Loblaw and Rogers, Zaguskin guided digital transformation initiatives, harnessing technology to improve the experiences of millions of Canadian customers—whether that’s a new point-of-sale system or better network connectivity.
Now as the chief information officer at Enercare, Zaguskin is leading the charge for the home energy solutions provider. But transforming what many see as a traditional company comes with its own set of challenges, especially in an industry that’s been marred by call centres, door-to-door sales and weather trends.
Zaguskin is looking at emerging technologies and data to drive Enercare away from legacy business practices into a new era of customer-focused initiatives. In her new role, Zaguskin has taken a deep dive into customer pain points to truly understand their experiences and how a home energy company can take on those challenges with technology.
Headquartered in Toronto, Zaguskin oversees a nearly 100-person IT team at Enercare. Calling herself a “forever student,” she has an MBA, a computer science degree, an MIT certificate in management, and is even TOGAF certified for enterprise architecture.
You’ve helped lead enterprise transformation at some of Canada’s biggest consumer brands. Why did you make the move to Enercare?
In your career, you should always look at what you’re really passionate about and follow that. That’s how I get enjoyment out of the work that I do. What I realized through some of these experiences is that I’m passionate about a couple of things and one is being able to drive change that impacts the customer experience.
A consistent theme throughout my career is that I’ve always chosen roles where I’ve had the opportunity to really make a difference by changing how an organization operates and how it delivers services to customers. I make sure to give the company better tools to create those better experiences for customers.
Enercare was an interesting opportunity because not only was the company growing very quickly and looking at a major acquisition, but also on the verge of refocusing and figuring out how to really elevate the customer experience. To provide proof of that, a big change was needed, and I wanted to be a part of that.
What does the role of chief information officer look like at Enercare?
If you look at Enercare historically, our business has been: a customer has a problem, that customer picks up the phone, they call us, we dispatch somebody and then they go to fix the issue.
If we look at it how customers want to deal with us, or companies like us, that interaction is changing very rapidly. I don’t think anybody wakes up in the morning and says, “Today I’d really love to call Enercare and be on the phone with them for some time.” Customers want to be comfortable in their home.
That’s where Enercare comes in. We want to make the home a worry-free environment. Now if we take a step back, how do we make that happen? And that’s where my role comes in.
A lot of the technology behind making customer-focused tools has to be built out, so IT becomes a key enabler of that customer experience. We want our customers to interact with us in any way that they want: mobile, chat, online or even the call centre. We want it to be easy and convenient. It’s up to IT to make that happen.
As the CIO, I have to understand the technology aspect. I really need to be customer-focused and partner very closely with other business groups to think through and enable that experience.
How are shifting consumer expectations shaping Enercare’s future?
The reality is customers have all the power—as they should—and as a customer, you can make the decision to go with Enercare or go with somebody else.
It’s our job to make sure that when a customer chooses Enercare, they choose Enercare for the great experience they’re going to get: communicating through any channel they want, getting all the services they need and consistent quality.
We’re not looking at this as a revolution, but an evolution.
Our job is to adjust how we position ourselves based on where the customers want us today. If we have this conversation two years from now and talk again about what the customers want, there might be very different answers.
It’s important that we constantly engage with customers and continue to adjust both the services we offer and how we offer them.
But as a company we are definitely customer-focused and we will continue to be customer-focused. This means continuing to adjust and evolve with our customers rather than having a one-time change right now.
How are you modernizing Enercare to meet the changing demands of your customers?
Omnichannel is new to Enercare. In the past, we had traditional channels such as the call center. And even at that, there was some fairly basic functionality there.
We are really changing the experience of the call centre by introducing new technologies. We have launched a customer-facing mobile app, a first for the industry. Customers can book an appointment with us right on their smartphone from the comfort of their couch. In the app, they can see a full set of products and they can book the next technician visit.
As for our call centre, we’re ensuring that when customers call, we have your data ready so that when you get on the line you don’t need to repeat everything and we’re ready to service you right on the spot.
The main goal behind all these changes is it’s not technology for the sake of technology, it’s all about technology for the sake of enhancing the customer experience. So that means reducing the time it takes you to solve your problems and increasing the enjoyment of your home.
How are data-driven insights playing into these initiatives?
Some of the challenges that not just our industry runs into, but all companies run into, is they start to realize they have a lot of data, yet they don’t know how to use it effectively.
The key is figuring out what kind of data we need, combined with the focus of using that data to enhance your experience.
These changes can go from fairly basic to quite complex. Basic might mean that when you call in you’re easily identifiable and don’t need to repeat your customer information over and over—as with some other providers.
More complex could be that we know that your water heater is ten years old and that it is up for a renewal. Without having to wait for it to break, we can contact you and say, “Listen, we know this about your environment, we have this great promo for you, you’ve been a wonderful customer, we don’t want you to run into a situation where your water heater is breaking.”
It’s about anticipating changes within your environment—like the equipment having issues—and knowing your priorities as an individual. If you have a house with many pets and someone has an allergy, that could be an opportunity to suggest a better air filtration system, ensuring that you have clean air at home.
There are a lot of ways in which we can use some basic data about you to ensure that we make your home a more comfortable and safe place.
What are the challenges of digitally transforming a traditional business?
If you look back at us and our history, we’re a company that has grown through acquisition. Every time you acquire a set of companies, very rarely do they come with beautiful, shiny systems. They usually come with legacy systems that are very difficult to integrate.
We are no different. We recently made two quite large acquisitions: Service Experts, and prior to that, Direct Energy. Those have come with heavy technical debt, so what we need to do is help transform our environment by putting in more modern systems that easily enable that omnichannel experience.
It used to take months from when a customer need was identified to when that product was delivered to a customer. Customers don’t want to work that way anymore and they’re not willing to wait for months if they have a problem or request.
We’ve had to change culturally to adjust to that shift, from the linear waterfall model to more of an agile delivery model. We went all in on agile from a customer experience perspective. Now when there is a request for a new feature in the mobile app or when customers would like to interact with us slightly differently, it only takes four weeks from the moment that request being formalized to the point of delivery.
How can going digital and leveraging data smooth the friction between customers and front-line workers?
If we look broadly, there are a few things. Many companies are still very paper-based, and customers walk away from any engagement with a stack of paper. Customers don’t want that today, they want everything to be digital and automated.
Many organizations have data but they aren’t sure how to use that data to truly bring value back to the people providing it. The question is: how do we improve your service based on the data you share with us, while also recommending the right products and the right bundles for you?
I’ve felt harassed by many organizations that keep going after me time and time again for services that I really have no interest in. At the same time, there are multiple services that I would have signed up for if that offer was made, but no one thought about offering them. Yet those services could have been suggested based on data that I would have willingly shared.
Companies just don’t know how to leverage the right data, so the questions should be: how are you relevant to your customers without annoying them, and how do you offer products that will improve their lives?
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.