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Utilities are changing, so too should their customer care

image credit: Photo 8048334 © - Dreams

On top of contracting COVID-19 and sweating through countless 108 degree days without air-conditioning, I’ve also had some pretty lousy customer care experiences this summer. This morning, for example, I spent over an hour trying to file a complaint to Uber about a cancelation fee I felt was undeserved. As so often happens in bad customer care systems, I got caught in a loop between the app, the website’s help page, and countless verification steps that didn’t work because my registered number had changed...are you feeling anxious yet? 

I have no idea if Uber’s competitors offer better customer support, and I hope to never find out. But regardless of how Uber compares, my experience this morning was bad enough to make me abandon the ride company. Is my decision a rational one? Probably not, but few of the decisions us humans make are. They made me mad and I want to punish them. I’ve had the same thing happen with Walmart this summer, an online furniture store, and a bank. 

How do my grievances relate to the utility business? Well, in my experience most utilities have antiquated help services that are even more frustrating than the system I described above. You know what I’m talking about: Old-fashioned call centers, long wait times, silos that so often don’t relate to your question or issue. And while it’s true that the consequences of bad customer care systems are less serious for utilities because there generally isn’t as much competition, there still are consequences! 

Even if they can’t switch to another provider, customers will be less likely to adopt new services or participate in surveys and pilots if they have a negative perception of the utility. That means potentially less revenue, more load management headaches, less energy efficiency, and so on. 

So, what can you do to update your customer care system? While it’s unrealistic to expect a utility to match, say Amazon’s robust and highly intelligent service system, there are a litany of third party providers that offer affordable and efficient solutions. Just check out this list of Live Chat companies. They’ll help integrate their system onto your existing websites and apps, and create tailor fitted chat algorithms based on your preferences and any relevant data. Not only are these systems often more accurate than telephone silos, but they are cheaper in the long run and much more convenient for customers. Beyond allowing customers to more easily resolve their issues, these systems can then pitch new services or direct them to resources about energy efficiency etc. 

It’s 2020 and the services utilities provide are quickly becoming more dynamic as the world of energy changes. I believe this will bring utilities into closer contact with their customers than ever before. Let’s make sure we’re ready for this new arrangement.

Henry Craver's picture

Thank Henry for the Post!

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Discussions

mark wilkinson's picture
mark wilkinson on Sep 14, 2020 1:57 pm GMT

Henry makes great points about the challenges business owners often face managing their service provider relationships.  We hear from a lot of our SMB clients that their utilities can't address the unique needs, since so many of the SMB questions get routed to a general custoemr care line mostly relating to residential service.  

And, business owners aren't like residential customers.  SMB owners are focused on running their businesses and helping their customers day in and day out.  They face different challenges than simply turnign on service or dealing with billing questions.  Utility SMB customers need more proactive support and can benefit greatly from energy efficiency programs and equipment.  Any money saved on utility bills gets funneled back into the business.  And, in our experience, SMB owners appreciate and subscribe to programs that help improve efficiency, reduce costs, and solve other problems with their business.  Utilities have an awesome opportunity at buildling advocates and CSAT with their SMB customers.  All it takes is a program to support their unique needs, beginning with the suggestions Henry makes above.

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Sep 14, 2020 4:22 pm GMT

We hear from a lot of our SMB clients that their utilities can't address the unique needs, since so many of the SMB questions get routed to a general custoemr care line mostly relating to residential service.  

When businesses (and their bills/accounts) are large enough, don't they get dedicated service agents much of the time to assist in their direct needs? So is the issue that in the eyes of the utilities these SMBs are too small of fish to deserve specific representatives assigned to reach out to, but not large enough that they are warranted specific outcomes in dedicated CS lines? 

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