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Managing the Customer Experience of Utilities Companies

John Cray's picture
Vice President of Marketing Enghouse Interactive

John Cray is Vice President of Product Management for Enghouse Interactive ( Enghouse Interactive delivers technology and expertise to maximize the value of every...

  • Member since 2014
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  • Aug 27, 2015 12:00 pm GMT

Summer is ending, and with Fall and Winter around the corner, one can't help but think back to the winter of 2014. During the winter that just wouldn't seem to end, frigid temperatures kept blasting the country with record lows and mounting snowfalls. And as the utility bills racked up - reflecting increased energy rates as well as cranked usage - consumers lost their patience.

Deregulation and smart-grid technologies heighten competition and give consumers more options for utility providers, which heightens expectations for quality service. A CMO Council survey found that utility customers' top complaints include long wait times, service outages, and higher costs without better service. It's a catch-22 situation, as an outage is likely to cause an increase in call volumes, which results in even longer wait times, increasing customer uneasiness. The colder it gets, the more urgent their demands for prompt, responsive service. And if they don't receive it, they're apt to switch - as more than half of consumers did last year, according to Accenture.

At the same time, the options for customer interactions are growing more complex. Instead of traditional phone calls alone, consumers now expect better - if not immediate - service across chat, email, SMS, social media, and other emerging channels. As consumers take more control of their services, utilities companies must adopt effective systems for managing the omni-channel customer experience efficiently.

By leveraging innovative technology that integrates multiple points of contact across platforms, service providers can enable smoother, more convenient interactions that enhance the customer experience. Imagine the possibilities.

What if, instead of waiting for outage-impacted customers to call you, upset, you could proactively email or SMS text them with the expected resolution time? Suppose you offered automated "callbacks" that guaranteed the same wait for a live contact, without keeping the customer on hold the whole time?

Or, when you do get a customer complaint, what if your agents had a complete picture of the customer at their fingertips: every call, chat, email, or text; every service outage or request; their complete billing history; and even a knowledge base of best responses to help them?

Truly integrated systems can consolidate multiple applications into a single interface, saving agents from having to log in and out of myriad systems and screens to handle calls. When all of a company's applications are based on the same infrastructure, the backend maintenance requirements and costs are kept to a minimum, while efficiently serving the varied needs of increasingly mobile customers.

Tools such as advanced IVR applications and web-enabled searchable articles can automatically provide answers to common requests. These self-service options give customers more flexibility to solve their own problems - freeing up representatives to handle more complex inquiries and resolutions. Additionally, intelligent call routing can direct interactions to the agent who is best-suited to solve a specific issue, based on data such as location, reason for the call, and who dealt with them last. When agents have customer records and knowledge-driven scripts at their fingertips, they can resolve issues efficiently without reinventing the wheel - which dramatically boosts productivity.

Beyond that, advanced reporting tools can make it easier to predict sudden surges in call volumes created by power outages, freeing dispatchers from time-consuming manual tasks so they can focus on resolving the outage rather than just providing updates about it. With monitoring tools that measure wait times, completion rates, and other call details, supervisors can take action in real time - assigning more staff to certain queues or locations, or even taking calls themselves.

With these capabilities, utilities can continually improve the performance of their customer service and contact centers. That also enhances the customer experience, leading to increased satisfaction and loyalty and keeping customers close to their utilities providers through even the harshest winter storms.

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