J.D. Power Utilities expert Andrew Heath believes senior utility execs are fast realizing focusing on customer engagement is no longer a “nice-to-have” but is instead a must-have, especially across digital channels. While digital channels are increasingly a growing means for consumers to reach their utility when service is required, the majority of customer care issues are still handled by contact center agents.
According to Heath, ratepayers prefer the convenience of chat and email rather than “waiting on the phone for often-overwhelmed call center staff to take care of routine transactions.” These routine transactions include checking on account status, modifying service, or making payments. However, phone calls to contact centers are shown to spike during the not-so-routine events like outages and weather-related events, which can lead to more overwhelming call volumes and rising frustration levels for both call center agents and customers.
The utility sector has lagged behind other industries in making digital engagement a high priority. “It has therefore been an area that has been underfunded and understaffed, which has contributed materially to the underperformance of the utility sector in customer satisfaction levels,” notes Heath. However, with market pressures squeezing profit margins along with urgent infrastructure updates, not to mention needed updates in digital platforms and systems, finding and allocating funds for massive digital customer service improvements is often not feasible.
Digital Transformation for Utilities
Digital channels such as mobile, online, and social media offer much promise in how utilities support and interact with ratepayers. Virtual agents can support an omnichannel approach to customer service. However, the tried and true contact center is still at the heart of customer service and is the main touchpoint for many ratepayers who need assistance from their utility provider. Supporting the contact center with accurate, Conversational AI solutions that can capture customer data provides busy utility customers with the option to self-service while streamlining operations and reducing costs for utility providers.
When compared to text, voice lends itself to be the perfect starting point for digital transformation for many reasons:
- Voice is growing in importance and preference as a primary channel with consumers; therefore there is a large opportunity to make a major impact on CX.
- Customers prefer voice for urgent issues when they want fast answers and have exhausted other options
- Implementing the right solution for voice, such as an Intelligent Virtual Assistant (IVA), allows for easy expansion into other channels.
- Companies spend the large majority of their customer service on voice. Therefore by starting in this channel, brands will experience a significant economic impact due to sheer volume.
Success in Action
Waiting on hold, experiencing poor service, and feeling like your needs aren’t being met are just some of the things that are driving customers away in areas where they have a choice of utility provider. They also negatively impact how Public Utility Commissions look at rate increase requests. Improving customer experience and lowering OPEX are imperative for utilities. Especially in times of unplanned outages due to weather events, natural disasters, and during the present health crisis, it’s vital for contact centers to scale to meet increased demand and be more responsive to customer needs.
TXU is one of ten largest electric companies in the U.S. They use an IVA to provide exceptional customer service for more than 10 million calls per year, offering self-service solutions for varied tasks including outage reporting and billing inquiries. Taking most of the time-consuming day-to-day calls out of the queue for live agents allows them to focus on the inquiries that need their attention. The result is higher customer satisfaction scores (CSAT) and greatly reduced OPEX.
It Starts with Voice
So although millennials (and everyone else) appear glued to a screen and most folks claim they want to do all of their business with the swipe of a finger, ask yourself how you get answers about your utility bill, report an outage, or submit a request to change service right now? Most likely, it’s by dialing the phone and speaking to a customer care agent. Now imagine providing a service that’s always on, always able to help, and which frees your front line customer care representatives to do more meaningful work to drive revenue and further increase satisfaction. Sure, the allure of online engagement is strong, but in the real world, there’s just no getting around the fact that consumers expect help is just a phone call away – especially when the lights go out or when the heat or water won’t turn on. That’s the power of voice.