Joe Parrie was busy on a phone call with a customer during the time that was scheduled for his interview. Eventually, he came out and apologized for the wait and said that dealing with customers and helping them sort issues was what his job was all about, but he was sorry for the delay nevertheless.
This year, Parrie is the winner of the Carbon Power and Light(CP&L) employee of the year, an award he says is given to employees who do a particularly good job of working with customers, whom, Parrie points out, aren't just customers but owners of the company.
"I've been nominated almost every year since I've been here for 16 years but never won until now," Parrie says. "I'm the Susan Lucci of Carbon Power and Light," he said, referring to the actress who was nominated for a daytime Emmy 18 times before she finally took one home in 1999.
Parrie isn't bitter about it,though. In fact, he's quick to point out that at the company, competition for best customer service is pretty fierce. "I believe that everybody at Carbon does a great job, so it's hard to pick just one person," he says. "That's what makes it difficult to choose."
There are so many at the company who deal with customers on a day-to-day basis he said that even he has some difficulty deciding who truly is the best. Parrie also points out that doing his job as well as he did and winning the award would not have been possible alone.
"The office services department is the primary contact," he says. "When you call on the phone you're going to get one of the girls in the office services department and they've done a great a job."
The line crews also deserve special attention as the face of CP&L that members of the public most often get to work with:
"They're out there every day working and they have direct contact with our members. Their faces are in the communities and so people see them. Of course, they're out there day or night, whether the wind is blowing or whether the weather is bad, they show up."
Now that Parrie has won, there will be a bit of a reward. The winner of the award gets to travel with the board of CPL to the annual convention of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, a nationwide trade group that represents rural electrical cooperatives. This year, the convention will be held in San Diego.
"So, I'm looking forward to that," Parrie says, chuckling. But it's not all fun and games at the convention, either. Parrie says there are workshops discussing technologies and legislative issues surrounding energy cooperatives that are important to understand to keep serving clients as best as possible in the face of shifting challenges to the industry.
And, it's a challenging business.
Parrie says the thing that most distinguishes organizations like CP&L from large utilities in big cities and other parts of the country is whose needs and goals are the most important. "We are a cooperative and we are owned by our membership," Parrie says. "If you have a meter, you are an owner and we serve the people who own us."
"We don't have shareholders or stockholders that we answer to, we have members that we answer to."
Rural electrical providers also have a wide host of other issues that may not be as big an issue for their big city counterparts. A large, urban or suburban utility can have double digits of electrical meters per mile of service line, Parrie says. At a rural utility like CPL, it's three meters per mile. That presents a whole spate of issues to deal with.
"That's the biggest difference is that when you're looking at costs the more members you have in a denser population you have less mile of line to take core of the keep working," he says. "Our lines are more susceptible to the environment because we're coving more area and sometimes the lines are hard to get at in the wintertime simply because of our location."
"When we have an outage it's not just down the street, a lot of times it's a long ways away and we have to travel a long distance," Parrie says.
Those challenges notwithstanding, Parrie is still adamant that he's not the only one who deserves credit. Everyone at CPL does their part in helping owners deal with whatever issues may crop up, whether billing, service outages or even other services like internet, storage heaters or others.
"We want to treat our member like we want to be treated because we're members, too." Parrie says. "It's kind of like taking care of your family: most people look at what they are responsible for and first thing they're responsible for is their family, then their friends, then their community.
"All of our members are our family."
And winning the award brings things to another level, Parrie says. After winning the award, there is a certain pressure to not let up and to continue going the extra distance in dealing with customers.
"It's not something you win and walk away from," Parrie says. "It does make you want to make sure you're doing the best that you can because you're representing the whole employee group."
In 1999, Shemar Moore announced the daytime Emmy winners, saying just before announcing Susan Lucci as the winner, "the victory is just being in this elite company."
Parrie, a good bit less emotional, summed it up with a succinct, "It was extra nice."
"I really appreciate that my fellow employees selected me for this, and I'll do my best to represent them the best I can."