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Power That Persists: Power To Serve

June 16, 2022

STEARNS ELECTRIC ASSOCIATION WAS FOUNDED IN 1937 AND SINCE ITS START, MEMBER SERVICE HAS BEEN A TOP PRIORITY FOR THE COOPERATIVE. AS MEMBER EXPECTATIONS CONTINUE TO EVOLVE, OUR TEAM OF EMPLOYEES REMAINS DEDICATED TO SERVING OUR MEMBERS NOT ONLY WITH RELIABLE ELECTRICITY, BUT ALSO WITH A POSITIVE MEMBER EXPERIENCE.

At Stearns Electric Association, our mission is member focused. In everything we do, a team of dedicated employees is behind the scenes working on behalf of our members. Whether it’s the operations department ensuring power is available when you need it, our engineering and operations support team taking phone calls during power outages, or the member service department distributing Capital Credits, our member-consumers are always top of mind.

RELIABLE ELECTRICITY AND 24/7 OUTAGE RESPONSE

In 1937, the Cooperative was founded by members to bring electricity to rural areas of Central Minnesota. In the early days, when power was lost, members might go days without even reporting their outage.

“I stopped in the office to say, ‘Just wanted to let you know the power was out last Tuesday,’” Stearns Electric member in 1943.

Over the years, this has changed quite drastically. People have grown accustomed to having the electricity they need when they want it. So when the power goes out, it is an inconvenience. Reliability is our mission; that is why our linemen are on-call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to respond to outages whenever they happen.

In order to restore power as quickly and safely as possible, our linemen are required to live within 15 miles of the office.

“When the phone rings for an after-hours outage, I grab my work gear, get in my vehicle and can get to the office in about 17 minutes,” lineman Jason Selix said. “From there, we grab the bucket truck and supplies we think we might need and leave to assess the situation. Every outage is unique, and each outage cause must be identified. Once we know why the power is out, we can work on restoration. This might take 15 minutes, 150 minutes or even longer, depending on the situation.”

“We do our best to restore power for our members as quickly and safely as possible. Our crews can work up to 16 hours before they are required to rest,” Line Superintendent Jake Dooner explained. “When major events happen, such as the storms we experienced last month, restoration takes longer. But we always have at least one crew on-call 24/7.”

Though outage response is extremely important, we don’t experience very many power outages. In fact, in 2021, our members had power over 99% of the time. When there are no outages, our linemen, substation techs and engineering team work daily to maintain and enhance reliability across the entire distribution system.

MEMBER EXPERIENCE AND CUSTOMER CARE

In addition to reliability, providing our members with a positive member experience is also a vital part of our mission.

The Cooperative exists to serve our members. Whether we are taking phone calls, keeping member information safe, creating and approving an annual budget, or thanking our members for their patronage, Stearns Electric employees are constantly working to better our customer care and service.

Over the last 85 years, the ways in which we communicate and interact with our member-consumers has changed. In the early days, much member communication was done either in-person or via mailed correspondence.

Today, only a portion of our 27,000 members attend the Annual Meeting, so we are available to our members in other ways, such as through the annual Member Appreciation Pancake Feed or our Member Engagement Group. And, though we still mail monthly power bills and newsletters, we also offer electronic communication including website forms, email and Facebook Messenger, too.

If you’ve ever called the Cooperative, you have talked to a person, not a recorded menu. Stearns Electric feels it is important to connect human to human with our members when they have a question or concern. We strive for excellent and efficient customer service and do our best to help answer a question or address an issue as quickly as possible.

“We have a team of knowledgeable member service representatives who are available to answer your billing, account setup and usage questions during business hours. We also use the Cooperative Response Center (CRC) to take calls after hours,” Manager of Member Services, Darla Honkomp, explained. “If CRC cannot answer a question, we get those calls first thing the next business day and can respond to our members as needed.”

Our employees take time to listen. “When members call regarding their energy usage or wanting to save money on their energy bill, I enjoy spending time looking into their account and problem solving with them,” Allan Gregory, Energy Service Lead, said. “Sometimes I can direct them to an energy-saving program or rebate, help identify what is consuming electricity or we discuss other ways to save. Usually together we can figure out ideas for them to save a little money on their monthly energy bill.”

Our engineering and operations (E&O) support team also responds to member phone calls throughout the day. They handle all new electric service, service upgrades and service alteration requests from members, as well as respond to incoming outage phone calls. Additionally, they communicate with members ahead of planned outages.

“We do our best to communicate planned outages ahead of time to our members,” Melissa Welle, E&O Support Supervisor, explained. “We currently notify members of pre-arranged outages through phone calls, and soon, members will have the opportunity to opt-in to email and text notifications as well.”

There are many other departments working on behalf of you, our members, every single day. Whether it’s the finance team ensuring the Cooperative is operating soundly, the IT department keeping member information safe and secure, or the purchasing department ordering the supplies needed to keep our distribution system reliable, all business decisions are made with our members in mind. Thank you for letting us serve you!

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