To listen to this article visit: New Evergy center in Wichita aims to serve customers, community - Wichita Business Journal (bizjournals.com)
Struggling with a utility bill payment can be a highly stressful experience that is sometimes tied to other issues — like a recently-lost job — an individual is facing.
Evergy Connect, a new facility near downtown Wichita operated by the state's largest electricity provider, aims to help customers who might be going through a challenging time — or might just prefer face-to-face interaction — while providing other services for the community.
The 6,300 square-foot, in-person customer assistance center opened Friday at 111 Ellis, just off of Douglas.
Elizabeth Danforth, Evergy director of public affairs, said most customers prefer dealing with Evergy on their computer or phone, but not all. The elderly and the less fortunate may not have the same technology access or comfort level as others.
“It’s a way for us to really meet our customers where they are versus, 'Here’s the way you’ll do business with us, whether you like it or not,'" she said. "If the app is not your thing, we’ve got a place where you can walk in and talk to people.”
A facility that helps customers navigate payment challenges may be especially well-timed. The U.S. Energy Information Administration's Short-Term Energy Outlook, released last month, forecast that home electricity costs could rise 10% this winter.
This is Evergy's (NYSE: EVRG) second Connect facility. In 2019, it opened its first Connect in Kansas City, and the company found the concept worked well.
Danforth said she's seen customers come in with an immediate issue, like a past-due bill, but then have the Connect team help guide them through utility assistance program information and other resources in a friendly, un-rushed manner.
"We think we begin to layer in the services to try to help the customer not be in that crisis situation," she said.
There are also educational opportunities — with an electric vehicle and demonstration kitchen in the building if customers have questions about EVs, renewable energy options or energy-saving tools.
Evergy Connect is open 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Community support is another theme of Connect. Evergy is partnering with the Workforce Alliance of South Central Kansas to provide on-site specialists at the location. Customers will also be able to receive employment assistance from the Workforce Alliance during scheduled days.
The company is making the location available on a scheduled basis to other organizations that serve the community, as well.
“We’ll bring in nonprofits who will also provide an additional layer of service for our customers," Danforth said. "They’ll be in for special events where they can talk with customers about utility assistance and the different programs that they have.”
In addition, nonprofits can coordinate with Evergy on using the building's community/conference room for meetings or events.
Evergy’s facilities team led the effort to update the building, as the company maintained elements of the location's history and previous industrial use while providing a bright, open look and feel. It also worked with Dondlinger Construction's facility services team. NAI Martens was involved in the real estate transaction for the space.
Originally, Evergy Connect was slated to open late this summer, but supply chain issues struck.
Danforth said the booths for in-person interactions — essential to a core purpose of Connect — were delayed.
Alongside spaces for the community, Evergy Connect includes offices for some of the utility's Wichita-based team members (including the community relations team) — and there are also spots where Evergy employees, who don't regularly office out of the building, can work.
Danforth said having space for Evergy employees outside of the Connect team is one difference between this facility and the original in Kansas City.
"It's a great way to see all the interactions with our customers. It kind of reminds you what you're here for," she said.