This special interest group is where customer care professionals share tactics on how utilities are improving interactions with their customers. 


How Utilities Are Using Chatbots to Improve Customer Care

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Karen Marcus's picture
Freelance Energy and Technology Researcher and Writer, Final Draft Communications, LLC

Karen Marcus has 25 years of experience as a content developer within the energy and technology industries. She has worked with well-known companies, providing direction, research, writing, and...

  • Member since 2017
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  • Mar 30, 2019

As artificial intelligence (AI) continues to develop, chatbots — which use advanced AI and natural language processing — are a tool being used by many types of companies, including utilities. A chatbot is essentially a computer program designed to respond to voice prompts without human intervention. These programs are most useful in situations in which the appropriate responses can be easily predicted.

According to Robotics Business Review, 80% of businesses claimed they already use or plan to use chatbors by 2020.

How Chatbots Can Be Used

For example, in a customer care situation, questions such as, “What is the balance on my bill,” “How can I save money on my electric bill,” or, “When will my service be restored” are common. A chatbot may be programmed to retrieve customer information to deliver accurate answers. It may also be able to detect when a human is needed to assist with more complex inquiries.

Chatbots offer numerous benefits to utilities:

  • They reduce the expenditure needed to maintain a large staff of customer care representatives.
  • They can be available 24/7.
  • They can be quickly developed.
  • They can be accessed through a variety of channels, including app, social media, and text.
  • They can make suggestions to lower electricity use.
  • For many customers, chatbots offer an improved customer experience.

However, in order to reap the benefits, utilities must use the right implementation approach.

According to research by Juniper Research, the average time savings per chatbot inquiry compared with traditional call centers is over four minutes.

The Right Approach

Chatbots that provide a choice of interaction method, give a consistent experience across channels, and learn and adapt to unfamiliar phrasing of questions can delight customers, while those that limit choices, are inconsistent, or fail to understand questions can aggravate them.

Utilities should carefully consider how chatbots fit into their overall customer care plan before moving forward with deployment. In addition to incomplete planning, utilities may decide to move forward with a chatbot implementation too quickly, without performing needed testing, or without providing the necessary data. Here are a few things to keep in mind for developing a successful chatbot program:

Determine what problems you’re trying to solve. For example, do you want to make service available through multiple channels? If so, make sure the chatbot will work across them. Do you want the chatbot to offer suggestions to lower electricity use? If so, ensure the advice can be personalized to each customer.

Determine how the chatbot will fit in with other customer care options. Chatbots, while very useful, shouldn’t be viewed as a panacea for customer care. So, consider at what point a human should become involved, or how customers can enjoy a chatbot-free experience if they prefer.

Determine how you’ll let customers know about chatbot options. Online messaging should include what to expect when they click customer care links. Rolling out a new chatbot function? Inform customers through regular channels such as bill inserts, newsletters, and social media.

Create a development timeline that allows plenty of time for planning and testing. The planning process should include input from a variety of company departments, as well as customers. The testing process should include a variety of use cases.

Monitor progress against goals and update the system as needed over time. Create milestones that will help you evaluate what constitutes a “successful” program. Consider surveying customers to get a clear understanding of their experience.

Chatbot technology will continue to grow in sophistication and ubiquity. They will be able to perform functions beyond “chatting,” with options for processing payments and other higher-level functions. Utilities can plan for these improvements even as they take immediate next steps toward chatbot integration.

Does your utility use chatbots? If so, how have they improved your customer service? Please share in the comments.


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