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


For Utilities, Customer Relationships Are More Important Than Ever

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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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Utilities are at a crossroads. While facing the necessity to incorporate more digital components into their every-day operations, they’re also navigating customers’ demands for more digital ways to communicate. Further, utilities are seeing an increasing number of customers able to generate some or all of their own energy, with the potential to drop the utility entirely. And, customers within all industries now expect a higher level of customer service and company engagement across the board. All these factors and more have put utilities in the position of placing customers at the forefront of their planning. Here’s how they’re doing it.

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Gain Insight from Customer Data

Analytics and customer journey information can be invaluable in developing a plan for revamping a utility’s customer-facing strategy. For example, Craig Rintoul of PA Consulting explains in an interview with Amanda Levin at Utility Dive that Puget Sound Energy (PSE) analyzed call data to determine what customers were calling about, and develop more effective ways to address those issues. Changes included streamlining the interactive voice response (IVR) system to make tasks such as bill paying simpler.

Along similar lines, utilities can examine customer journeys — that is, processes customers must use to accomplish particular tasks — to see how they could be improved. For example, a customer journey to get a new service might include initial research on the utility’s website, a call to the utility, an initial visit from a technician, and, finally, the installation. A utility can determine which departments can make these steps smoother. For instance, the marketing department could change the website to enable customers to order the service directly online rather than making a call. Small improvements like this can make a big difference in how utility customers view their overall experience.

Upgrade Internal Processes

According to Rintoul, PSE upgraded its field operations processes so assignments would be based on the optimal travel route, making shifts more efficient.

Other changes might require updates to employees’ skills. For example, utilities might consider training existing or new employees to become customer advocates, bringing a greater level of connection and responsiveness to the customer experience. One shift in their role might be to help customers determine the best solutions for their energy needs, rather than just acting as an order taker.

An outdated IVR can be just as off-putting to customers as inefficient processes. Utilities should do a thorough review and, if needed, overhaul of their IVR system.

Think Digital First

Many customers now want the same level of interaction in the digital space that they get from other service providers. That means the ability to text, message, and interact on social media. Yet, not all customers are tech-savvy, and may become frustrated when they can’t just pick up the phone. Utilities must be aware of their customers’ actual needs and abilities, and provide options for different comfort levels.

Technology should also be woven into efforts to streamline customer journeys. For example, customer service reps should be able to access all of a customer’s data immediately when they call, to avoid scenarios like the customer having to repeat their account number multiple times. Further, customers should be able to easily move between contact points (phone, website, social media) seamlessly, with all information funneled into one cohesive profile.

Finally, utilities must track key performance indicators to ensure they’re headed in the right direction, and to determine further improvements. The goal is to build a closer rapport with customers that can make the utility customers’ go-to source for future needs.

These changes aren’t always easy or inexpensive, but they’re worth it in keeping customers as they — now more than ever — have the potential to drift away.


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