Evolution vs. Revolution for Utility Customer Care
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- May 28, 2019 2:45 pm GMTMay 24, 2019 6:28 pm GMT
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This item is part of the Special Issue - 2019-05 - Customer Care, click here for more
The path forward for Utility Customer Care is one of balance between fast-paced changes and an evolutionary approach.
Customer experience (CX) and customer care have become one of the most critical components of customer satisfaction for every utility. Modern consumers expect services delivered quickly whenever they want, through whatever channel they choose to use.
Utilities aren’t just competing with each other for new customers, but competing with every digital customer service department and contact center to maintain customer satisfaction. More and more products and services are available on-demand through phone apps and digital technology. Customers can hail a ride to whisk them off to a short-term rental they booked on their phone five minutes ago then use a different app to have dinner delivered to their new apartment without them even thinking about talking on the phone. Consumers are increasingly comparing these experiences to every company they interact with.
These kinds of digital interactions and immediate solutions are a key indicator for high utility customer satisfaction. The best utilities have already shifted to more digital channels and faster service options for common customer needs. According to J.D. Power’s 2018 Electric Utility Business Customer Satisfaction Study, “customers have higher satisfaction when they have an online account and choose to receive an electronic bill. On average, offering these options leads to a 47-point increase (on a 1,000-point scale) in overall satisfaction.” When customers have fast, convenient, and easy to use digital solutions to common customer service needs, customer satisfaction increases and utilities benefit.
Innovation and change can be difficult, but if approached properly, every utility can join the new age of digital customer service and fast, automated solutions. To meet shifting customer preferences and expectations, Utility Customer Care professionals must identify the low-value, high-volume interactions perfectly suited for self-service automation. By innovating these use cases first, utilities will experience the best bang for their buck — improving the experience for as many interactions as possible by bringing innovation to the interactions that are most easily automate.
Not All Interactions Are Equal
Some customer service functions deserve to be automated, but there are also complex, high-value interactions where customer service representatives’ human touch and personal skills are absolutely necessary. The amount of complex problem solving needed to answer a request or solve a specific customer service issue determines the amount of added value live customer service agents bring to an interaction. Some customer service functions are simply too complicated for automation to handle effectively, or require a uniquely human touch to accomplish.
Knowing how much a specific customer owes on their current bill and accepting payment for that bill is a straightforward, simple process, but can easily waste agents’ time. Asking a customer for their ID information, looking up their account in a database, verifying their payment details, verifying their payment amount, and accepting payment for a bill is a tedious process that at best can take minutes to accomplish. The same task can be completed in a couple of seconds with effective self-service automation. It doesn’t take minutes to pay for a rideshare service. It shouldn’t take that long to submit payment for a utility bill.
Sorting interactions between low/high value and low/high volume categories is the vital first step towards modern customer service. CX leaders and decision makers can start with the highest ranked call dispositions from McKinsey’s North American CX Survey for Utilities:
- Managing Energy Usage
- Resolving Billing/Payment Issues
Just these four types of customer service calls accounted for roughly two-thirds of all customer satisfaction, according to McKinsey. These are clearly high-volume, low-value calls the industry could be automating.
Reading industry surveys isn’t the only way to key in on calls that are ready to be automated. Plotting call dispositions on a four-quadrant graph can also be useful for identifying the right functions to automate for your business. Place “Volume” on the x-axis and “Value” on the y-axis (like I have below). This method makes identifying which dispositions to automate first, which to leave for later, and which to never automate a lot easier than educated guessing.
There are two main paths for change and innovation: revolution and evolution. The first, a complete forklift upgrade of all processes and a sudden shift to new, innovative processes, can easily overwhelm and do harm to businesses that aren’t built for sudden pivots. The second, a gradual change of mission-critical components over time, gives businesses the time to shift without disrupting different departments and creating unanticipated consequences, gives consumers time to be introduced to new technology, and allows businesses that don’t have the resources available for major forklift upgrades to still make the transition to innovative solutions.
Utility companies around the country are at vastly different stages of transition, but they can all benefit from this second “evolution” style of change. Overhauling an entire customer service model is expensive, wasteful, and would probably do more harm than good for most businesses. Automating every customer service function and firing all the contact center agents is not the path to success. Understanding which interactions are ready for automation and which should be kept with agents is critical to knowing which steps to take first towards evolution.
Identifying which call dispositions are low-value (straightforward, easily automated tasks like bill payment or start/stop service requests) AND high-volume allows businesses to prepare and execute the evolution style of innovation. Automating these interactions first provides a fast return on investment and makes integrating and launching customer self-service tools like Visual IVR, chatbots, online portals and other options worthwhile. Every utility is different, so decision makers must really get to know how their customer service departments operate for this first step to be executed properly.
Time To Evolve
Once call dispositions are divided into the right categories, utility customer care professionals can begin to really evolve. Every industry must deliver faster customer care at a better price available whenever and wherever customers demand to keep up with the evolving landscape of customer service. Our modern world is increasingly digital and services are delivered on-demand. By focusing on customer care needs that fit automation best, utilities will be able to afford the big shift towards digital that their customers have been waiting for. As businesses begin adopting digital channels and self-service customer service functions, they will really begin moving the needle on customer satisfaction and loyalty.