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The New Rules for Customer Care

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

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

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As utilities strive to stay ahead of market trends and customer demands, customer care is more important than ever. But utilities can’t rely on the same old strategies to keep customers happy. Due to evolving customer expectations, advanced technological solutions, and new tools for more effectively deploying agents, the rules have changed.

Changing Expectations

Consumers doing business in the retail market are increasingly exposed to “radical customer care” from companies like Nordstrom, Zappos, and others who understand that the path to success rests on a firm foundation of positive customer experiences. Many have developed an expectation that any customer service environment, including within their utilities, should operate based on the same philosophy.

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Many of these customers are millenials and, "In this internet age, they are accustomed to having quick access to providers using a verity of media channels. They want to talk at their convenience, wherever they are and whenever they're ready," according to Jonathan Lo Bue writing for Western Energy Institute. They also expect that companies are technologically advanced enough to know their contact history from calls, texts, instant messages, and emails. 

New Rule: Put customer satisfaction at the center of every new strategy, and the focus on customer needs in every interaction. Deploy tools that will make it easy for them to get answers and assistance.

Advanced Technology

Call center technology has evolved in recent years, so utilities don’t need to be bound by legacy systems that can’t keep up with these changing customer demands. With the right systems, agents can ensure smooth transactions that will contribute to positive customer experiences. One key component is agents’ ability to access the right information at the right time. This seemingly simple condition isn’t possible if a utility is working with numerous data silos that can accumulate due to company mergers or lingering legacy systems that can’t “talk” to each other. In this situation, agents are left scrambling for the right responses to offer customers.

The ideal environment is a unified view of all customer data, including integration with various connection points, such as phone calls, texting, messaging, and email. A customer who describes a problem in email shouldn’t have to reiterate it when she calls the customer service center via phone. A truly integrated system has information about all previous interactions available at a glance.

New Rule: Don’t let old technology be “good enough.” Make room in the budget to upgrade or completely replace systems that don’t serve customers’ needs.

Agent Efficiency

With this complex technology comes the challenge of using it efficiently. For example, having agents monitor phone calls and text messages at the same time could be less effective than assigning each agent to one channel. Tools that measure performance can help to guide decisions about agent assignments.

Additionally, agents can’t help customers if they continually leave to find better positions. The hard work of customer retention can be used to retain agents as well. Keeping agents on board results in higher degrees of knowledge that they can use to solve customer problems, and better quality interactions, as well as increased productivity. Also, it is less costly to retain employees than to hire new ones.

There are many remedies for agent attrition, including offering thorough training, using technology (such as chatbots) to reduce the need for agents to perform routine tasks, offering flexible schedules, and providing a path for professional growth. “In addition,” writes Lo Bue, “the agents need to understand their organization’s products, services and specialties. For example, if you are a 'green' utility, call center agents need to understand what renewable energy is compared to fossil fuels, how they are integrated into your business, and how you are using them to better serve customer expectations.”

New Rule: Make agents a central part of the call center ecosystem, and treat them well enough that they’ll want to stay for the long term.

As market forces demand that utilities become more competitive, the retail environment can serve as an inspiration. Many of those companies reap the benefits of a customer care focus, including increased revenue, customer loyalty, and brand advocacy. Utilities can gain similar rewards by pursuing this strategy, as long as they understand what “customer care” means to customers today.

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