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The Importance of Utility Customer Self-Service

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

In addition to serving as an Energy Central Community Manager, Karen Marcus has 25 years of experience as a content developer within the energy and technology industries. She has worked with...

  • Member since 2017
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  • May 24, 2021
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In an age of digital everything and many companies applying a laser focus to customer experience (CX), utility customers want to be able to perform actions and manage their accounts at their convenience. In particular, they want to be able to do things like get account information, pay their bill, and find out about energy efficiency (EE) and renewable energy (RE) sources right from their phones or other mobile devices.

For these reasons, it’s becoming more important all the time for utilities to offer robust self-service options for both residential and commercial customers. Or, as stated by The Future of Customer Engagement and Experience, “Today, utilities must move beyond standard customer self service in order to truly meet customer needs.” Let’s explore some of the considerations involved.

 

Self-Service Options

The following (including some mentioned above) are specific actions customers want to be able to take using self-service:

  • Review bills, including usage data
  • Pay bills easily and quickly
  • Change account information
  • Get outage and restoration information
  • Start or stop service
  • Access frequently asked questions (FAQs)
  • Learn about EE and RE options
  • Troubleshoot simple problems
  • Use a chatbot to find information
  • Get connected to a customer service representative

Savvy utilities have gone beyond simply providing such services to giving customers a reason to visit their customer portal in the first place. For instance, using a gamification approach, customers can get a bonus every time they log on, such as points that can be converted into payment credits or other rewards.

 

Benefits of Self-Service

Enabling customers to perform these actions on their own benefits both them and the utility. Customers get a more convenient way to find the information and help they need.

The more customers can be enabled to help themselves, the more utilities can reduce costs related to customer service staffing and spend time on more pressing matters like resolving more difficult issues or enhancing programs designed to meet Net Zero goals. High-quality customer self-service also improves customer loyalty, which enables utilities to sell more products and reduce customer churn.

 

Challenges With Customer Self-Service

While customer self-service is clearly useful to both utilities and their customers, there are some challenges to consider. Customers don’t expect utilities to provide the features they want and therefore may be reluctant to try a utility portal or download an app. To ensure customers get a great experience the first time they use a portal, utilities should consider implementing the following strategies:

  • Highlight the most popular FAQs.
  • Use video and graphics whenever possible to attract interest.
  • Keep content up to date.
  • Ensure displays are responsive — that is, easily viewable from any device.
  • Get feedback and act on it to ensure customer needs are being met.

 

Utility Self-Service Next Steps

Utilities considering a new self-service platform should look for the following features:

  • Functionalities for all actions customers want to perform
  • Communication tools to help customers get the help they need when they need it
  • Intuitive and easy to use without much instruction
  • Notifications upon important events like meeting EE goals or a due bill
  • Omnichannel capabilities to prevent customers from having to input or give the same information more than once

 

Keep in mind that having a feature-rich new self-service platform in itself is just the beginning of encouraging customers to be more self-reliant. To meet larger objectives, such as reducing customer service staff, reducing dollars spent on customer care, and increasing customer loyalty, each utility must set goals for customer self-service portal use and promote its platform to ensure those goals are met.

 

Does your utility offer self-service? If so, what does it entail and how have you updated it to meet new customer demands? Please share in the comments.

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