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Can Utility Companies Catch Up With Customer Expectations?

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Yossi Abraham's picture
President Zappix Inc.

Over 20 years of experience in various managerial roles, including sales and business development, marketing, account management, operations and service management, project management and chief...

  • Member since 2019
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  • Apr 8, 2019 5:30 pm GMT
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Modern customer service transcends industries. Consumers compare their experience working with Amazon to the experience they get at their local hardware store. Every CX department today must hold their own against agile, modern powerhouses like Uber.

Andrew Heath, Senior Director of the Utilities Practice at J.D. Power, says, “…interacting with their utilities — whether to check usage, pay a bill or report an outage —often seems like a step back into the dark ages of technology.” Many times, even simple tasks become cumbersome and difficult experiences for utility customers. Even as consumers enjoy up-to-the-minute alerts on the status of the products being delivered to their door, just checking usage can mean many minutes spent on hold on the phone.

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Gianni Loginov / Unsplash.com

Lackluster Solutions

Utilities are certainly attempting to remedy the situation. Most large providers have developed native smartphone apps to provide users a direct connection to their services. Others have implemented chatbots on their website or social media channels. These solutions are usually built well, but find little traction in the market. Residential utility consumers simply don’t want to download or use a provider’s app.

survey by Deloitte digging into exactly how utilities can win over the next generation of customers discovered this truth. The report found that 46.6% of electricity, natural gas, and water customers on average had used a phone call or a company’s website to interact with their utility provider. Only a paltry 4.5% of customers had ever used web chats or mobile apps for the same purpose.

It’s not just that these channels are new or customers don’t know about them yet. Deloitte found they aren’t interested in using them either. On average, 54.5% of the consumers surveyed said they were either “Extremely Interested or Very Interested” in using phone calls or the company website to interact with their utility providers. Even more said they were not interested in modern channels. On average, 58% of respondents said they were either “Not At All Interested or Not Very Interested” in using mobile chatbots, apps, or web chats.

Meet Customers Where They Are

Utilities have tried providing customers faster, more enjoyable experiences through new channels. Consumers haven’t adopted these solutions. The need for improvement is clear. When utilities can improve their classic phone and website channels to provide speedy, on-demand answers to customer questions and problems, consumers will appreciate the improvement. John Hazen, Senior Director of the Energy Practice at J.D. Power, cites “proactive communications” as having a “significant positive impact on residential electric utility customer satisfaction.”

Luckily for providers, that improvement is here and it’s ready to be implemented.

How To Automate & Digitize Customers’ Favorite Channels

Zappix Mobile On-Demand technology provides an ‘app like experience’ without the need to download an app. When customers call in to the phone channel, providers that implement Zappix self-service platforms can instantly connect callers to the visually rich mobile on-demand app. Zappix helps them complete the task they called about and disappears again as soon as they hang up. The convenience and ease of use native apps provide, without the apps consumers don’t want to download.

On top of modernizing outdated IVR solutions, Zappix platforms handle the most common customer service inquiries automatically, without any input from live agents, using Robotic Process Automation (RPA) integrations. The technology lets service providers free up contact center agents to focus on complex problems where their expertise is needed, while the tedious, repetitive calls that increase agent burnout are taken care of effortlessly. McKinsey sees this automation as a key revenue driver for energy retailers. They have identified “the potential to automate up to 70 percent of the activities in a call center…which will allow for 30 to 50 percent reduction in CTS [cost-to-serve] through these channels.”

Zappix Mobile On-Demand technology gives consumers the experience they want through the channels they like, while dramatically reducing costs for providers and improving agent productivity.

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Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Apr 8, 2019

"The technology lets service providers free up contact center agents to focus on complex problems where their expertise is needed, while the tedious, repetitive calls that increase agent burnout are taken care of effortlessly."

Effortlessly...for whom? Yossi, utilities can catch up to customer expectations by hiring more CS agents and training them - not forcing customers to waste time dialing through a phone menu which may or may not even address their question or concern.

"McKinsey sees this automation as a key revenue driver for energy retailers."

No doubt. It's also a key driver of customer frustration and complaints to public utility commissions. Energy retailers remain monopolies - thus, PUC complaints are the only recourse customers have when a utility's automated messaging system is wasting their time (predictably, that's "always").

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Apr 8, 2019

Great post, Yossi. Optimizing business operations must not be forgotten among the various technical and financial pushes elsewhere in the utility industry. 

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