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What Makes a Good Utility Self-service Portal?

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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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In recent years, customers have come to expect a new level of service from all companies they do business with, including electric utilities. There are many things utilities can do to upgrade the service they provide, and one of them is offering a robust self-service portal. Doing so meets customers’ increasing demand for self-service options. But, a bad implementation is worse than none at all, so utilities should consider the following factors before moving forward.

Functionality

First and foremost, a utility self-service portal should enable customers to perform critical functions from both web and mobile platforms:

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  • Create a customer profile
  • View energy use details
  • Access statements and past payments
  • Pay bills
  • Make changes to service
  • Contact a customer service representative

Ease of Use

A portal that enables all of the above functions is a great first step, but it must also be easy to use. The portal, whether proprietary or off-the-shelf, should feature a clean interface, logical menus, and clear instructions. Customers should be able to understand immediately how to accomplish the task they came to the site to do, or how to get help if they can’t.

Some pre-built packages include customizable designs, so utilities can set them up in ways that align most closely with their customers’ needs. Some also include additional modules (e.g. gas, water, broadband) for utilities that provide multiple services.

Practicality

While customer focus is the point of offering a self-service portal, utilities must also think about internal needs, such as the following considerations:

  • How will portal implementation impact employees? Ideally it should free up time for IT, customer service, and billing professionals to focus on other ways to serve customers.
  • Can the utility offer the appropriate training? Both customers and employees will need to be informed about and trained on proper portal use.
  • Will the portal save the utility money? For example, the need for human customer support should be reduced, prompting a decrease in spending in this department.
  • Can the utility ensure data security? A self-service portal can greatly improve the customer experience, but a data breach can quickly diminish it.
  • Is the portal compatible with other platforms? It should interact seamlessly with other (present and future) software systems, such as billing, advanced metering infrastructure, and order management system.

Communication

Like any change in service, a new portal requires a communication plan to help customers understand what it is and how it works. Utilities could consider sharing this information in various ways:

  • Announce the change on all social media outlets, in bill inserts, in newsletters, through press releases, and in any other forms of regular communication, as far in advance as possible.
  • Provide detailed instructions for how to get started. This process may require a temporary increase in customer service staffing, to answer customer questions while they get used to the system.
  • Send out instruction “bites” about how to use certain aspects of the system. This process could be in the form of “Did you know” statements, such as “Did you know you can change or cancel your service from the portal?”
  • Request feedback as customers start to use the portal regularly. Ask, what’s working well? What should be changed?  
  • Direct new customers to the portal as the best way to interact with the utility.

The number of factors to consider when implementing a customer self-service portal may seem daunting, or even not worth the effort. But, utilities that can incorporate one into their service strategy will come that much closer to meeting modern customers’ expectations and needs.

Does your utility use a customer self-service portal? If so, how has it improved your customers’ experience? Please share in the comments.

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Thank Karen for the Post!
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