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Is Customer Service Ready for the Next Challenge?

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Mark Wilkinson's picture
SVP Products, Ibex Digital

Helping utilities and their customer experience teams transform customer journeys,  decode customer insights  and enhance revenues for nearly 15 years.  At Ibex, I lead the teams delivering...

  • Member since 2019
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  • Mar 29, 2023
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As we prepare for moving season, high bill season, and the inevitable uptick in customer calls and engagements on sensitive topics like late bills, payment assistance, and collections, thoughtful utilities are taking a moment to ask “is my Customer Service program ready for the upcoming challenges?”  Of course, the next question is “how would I know?”  Even with real time reporting and KPI tuning, it’s tough to know if your operation is getting peak performance from the customer service program.

If you’re thinking about making changes to your customer service operation — or if you want to make sure you’re getting the most out of your current customer service strategy — here are some key areas to focus on to improve your chances of success.

Measure Beyond Reporting

Reporting is a critical part of any customer service program, but it can sometimes miss the forest for the trees.

Reporting can be very effective for understanding performance at a given time, set against specific benchmarks - but how well does it help you to understand what you’re missing - and how well you could be doing?  Don’t rest on typical AHT, ASA, and simple CSAT measures.  Outstanding Customer Service operations will build value for the lifetime customer relationship.

Consider the intangibles beyond the typical metrics in a contact center:

  • Are you getting the best opt-in rates from your new energy start queue?
  • Are you getting auto pay enrollments following a billing call?  
  • How many customers are signing up for your app?
  • Is your email open rate increasing?
  • What’s the social reputation? Does it get affected after outages or rate increases? Can it be moved by customer service adjustments?
  • Is digital interaction increasing?
  • Are customers moving to self-service following a call?
  • Is there a better IVR prompt to transition to self-service?
  • Can you recognize repeat callers and get them to a premium queue for service to reduce “rage spirals?”

These factors can point to areas of your program that dramatically affect customer lifetime value and the CX, but often get overlooked by typical KPI reporting.  

You may also consider the operational nuances that affect your program: 

  • What happens if attrition goes down, which means your core team is more stable and better equipped for the long term?
  • Does launching new programs or adjusting approaches become easier with higher quality recruiting and teams with more education or experience? 

These questions should be part of your benchmarking and program testing. 

Putting Customer Service To The Test

If you’re looking to get the most out of your Customer Service program, but aren’t positive which direct to endorse, there’s a simple solution: take it for a test drive. 

Put a pilot program in place to test out new functionalities
Conducting a pilot program offers you the option to evaluate the feasibility cost, performance, and possible complications of new solution, but on a manageable budget and scale.  This approach allows you to refine the program based on real data, so you’re more likely to get it right on your large-scale rollout. 

When engaging a pilot program, it’s important to remember that your program is still in development. Be sure to consider different customer subsets and personas, gaps in your current program, barriers to adoption, and scalability. The best part about a pilot program is that you’ll get feedback directly from the customers you service to make sure you’re building what’s right for them – and for your utility. 

Find the right partner 

Your customer service program remains the primary “voice of the company” to your customers and the essential integration point between your customers and the utility brand. Whether you’re looking to build a new program, make small changes to an existing program, or do a complete overhaul of your utility’s CS program, it’s important to engage the right partner to help you achieve your goals. 

An engaged and involved partner will have expertise in your specific industry in order to appreciate your needs and be sensitive to your customers’ expectations. They will bring ideas to the table to help optimize your program and have the right functionalities and tech in place to ensure you are getting the right insights to make meaningful decisions that drive forward positive improvements.

Evaluate, Assess, & Decide Next Steps

While you want to run testing to unlock the optimal nuances of your specific program and your unique customers’ needs, there are a few best practices to keep in place that will help your program run as smoothly as possible. These practices can also help inform which areas require new functionalities, services, or at the very least, requires some testing. Consider the following:

 

  • Effectively monitor and measure feedback from your customers. Basically, your customers are your biggest sounding board. They’ll tell you exactly what is and isn’t working. As long as you’re listening, and putting procedure around collecting customer feedback data, you can reveal a lot of insights that can help drive any changes you might make in the right direction. Conversely, it can also alert you to areas where you should stick to the status quo, and focus your efforts for change elsewhere.
  • Gather regular feedback from your customer support staff. While your customers will tell you exactly what they need and can provide invaluable feedback to your program, no one knows your CS better than your frontline agents. Collect regular feedback from employees on challenges or issues they are having, which could be effecting your program’s performance. This might be as simple as adding a new tool to your agent toolbox, or creating more resources internally. 
  • Enforce CS training that prioritizes active listening and empathy. Especially when it comes to utilities, and delinquent accounts or at-risk customers, it is critical to lead your support program with empathy and understanding. Significantly, 86% of customers polled said that showing empathy and understanding of what they need in the moment is powerful in building a stronger relationship with a brand. Set your team up for success and maximize your CS outcomes by building soft skills into your training curriculum that helps agents to channel empathy, better manage customer relationships, and anticipate customer needs.
     
  • Create organization-wide resources for knowledge sharing. Make sure that your agents are equipped with the product and service information needed to give your customers the best support possible, while prioritizing speed and efficiency. This also can help to mitigate agent frustration, which can impact your overall performance. Be sure to keep knowledge-sharing resources up-to-date, so that your customer service can evolve right alongside any other programs your Utility offers.

The takeaway

Now is the perfect opportunity for your utility to “stress test” your customer service operations to be absolutely certain it's ready for the inevitable challenges of 2023 and beyond.  With the hangover effects of the pandemic, not to mention high bill season, and moving season right around the corner, we all need to be sure that our CS teams are prepared.

Testing your customer service program can be invaluable – not only can it give you peace of mind that you’re doing all you can for your customers and your business, but can surprise you by revealing areas where you might be overlooking the opportunity for improvement. While testing your program requires significant time and resources, it can directly impact your ability to deliver more value to your customers, while prioritizing operational efficiency internally.  Spending time testing the systems now ensures a more effective, efficient and satisfying Employee Experience and Customer Experience in 2023.

 

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