How Digital Self-Service Is Transforming Utility Customer Service Experiences

Johnny Rosa's picture
Marketing Manager, Zappix

Johnny is the Marketing Manager at Zappix, the leading provider of Visual IVR, creating technology to increase customer self-service, reduce calls to live contact-center agents, and lower costs...

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  • Jul 28, 2021

This item is part of the Utility Customer Care - July 2021 SPECIAL ISSUE, click here for more

The pandemic changed how we all operate our daily lives. In 2021 and beyond, digital technology is creating new opportunities, customers are becoming more engaged, and utility leaders are trying new and innovative ideas. Digital self-service tools like proactive messaging, RPA, Visual IVR, and more deliver the speed and convenience modern consumers demand through the voice channel they use most often.

Today’s customers have grown accustomed to digital self-service channels. The speed and simplicity of solving straightforward service issues on their own leads over two-thirds of customers to choose self-service before any other channel. During the pandemic even more businesses deployed self-service tools across every industry, making automation a daily part of consumers lives.

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This increased demand for self-service isn’t going away. According to McKinsey, “fully 75 percent of people using digital channels for the first time indicate that they will continue to use them when things return to ‘normal.’” When customers are offered the chance to complete an interaction on their own, they opt-in more often than not, and the utility industry should also jump in feet first with CX automation solutions.

Photo credit: Zappix

Why Self-Service?


The majority of customer service calls are concerned with common questions or tasks with simple solutions. These tasks like account inquiries, reporting an outage, bill payments, form submissions, password changes, and others drain resources better-suited for more complex or empathy-based service calls.

Proactive appointment confirmation messages (text or email) make sure customers are ready for technicians to arrive on site, and dynamic reporting forms with photo and video upload help utilities send technicians with the right tools to the right appointments.

Self-service solutions reduce costs at the contact center by deflecting common calls like outage reporting away from agents to self-service solutions. Capturing calls with automation reduces the pressure on call centers during unexpected spikes in call volume as well.


Automated self-service has been an emerging success story across the energy industry. Industry pioneers have seen real benefits from past iterations of self-service solutions. Alabama Power ranked #1 in JD Power’s Utility CX list after they streamlined their CX with digital self-service to simplify account information so customers can easily see how much power they use and how they can lower their bill. Central Hudson Gas & Electric in New York invested in a mobile customer engagement and self-service platform way back in 2017. They focused on making bill payment easy to track and complete. In the first year of the platform, eBill payments increased by 12%.

Photo credit: Zappix


Why Now?

The pandemic dramatically increased inbound call volumes in every industry and caused many businesses to struggle to hire staff quickly as we head back towards a new normal, leading to shortages in call centers. As more customers call contact centers and fewer agents are around to answer, the gap between contact center capacity and inbound call volume grows. To alleviate this problem, many leaders have opted for digital self-service solutions to automate their most common call types. According to Gartner, “Migrating Contact Volume From Assisted to Self-Service Channels” was one of the most important priorities for 80% of customer service leaders in 2021, followed closely by “Automating Customer Service Processes.” It makes sense. Automated solutions are both cost effective, and reduce the number of calls reaching live agents.

Businesses need to catch up to the market demand quickly. In their Customer Experience Trends Report 2020, Zendesk found, “69% of customers want to resolve as many issues as possible on their own,” but “less than 30% of companies offer self-service.”

Where to Start?

Proactive Messaging

Getting ahead of customer queries by proactively connecting to customers is one of the fastest ways utilities can deliver a modern level of service while simultaneously helping prevent a flood of calls into contact centers. Proactively connecting to customers can prevent calls before they even happen by reaching out during outages or emergencies, connecting customers to payment gateways ahead of billing periods, and other scheduled activities.

Many utilities have already begun emailing or texting customers about interactions just like these, getting ahead of an expected spike of inbound call volumes. With most consumers choosing mobile phones over landlines today, these messages often get delivered properly when in the past events like power outages could have prevented successful deliveries. Some businesses have even begun experimenting with messaging platforms like Apple Business Chat, Messenger, and WhatsApp to expand their messaging capabilities.

Photo credit: Zappix

Robotic Process Automation

Self-service can be for agents as well. Robotic Process Automation, or RPA, is a great option for quickly digitizing common agent-side tasks that require the same process to complete every time. The contact center is a great workspace for RPA, as the applications that agents use are precisely controlled and often have repetitive steps. These steps are where RPA excels, automatically completing common procedures faster than agents can, and for hundreds of agents at once.

RPA delivers significant benefits and advantages over manual systems while delivering results proven in real-world applications with much lower costs and easier implementations. These differences have launched business process and robotic process automation solutions to the top of the automation industry. In fact, Forrester data shows over 44% of organizations already use RPA. AI and Machine Learning technologies are the future of business automation, but RPA is often a cost effective, easy to implement solution businesses can deploy right now.

Photo credit: Zappix

Visual IVR

For utility industry leaders looking to quickly implement a customer self-service solution directly into their voice channel, Visual IVR has become the clear best fit. Still the most popular customer service channel, Visual IVR’s ability to deliver the self-service customers want through the channel they use most often means enhanced ROI realized quickly.

When customers call a customer service line equipped with Visual IVR, the caller is provided with an option in the IVR to use self-service. When they choose it, the platform sends a text message with a link to the Visual IVR experience. The customer then resolves the reason they called using their mobile phone, all in simple to use visual menus.


Photo credit: Zappix

Deflecting these calls to Visual IVR leaves contact center agents available to handle more complex, empathy-driven interactions where their human skills and expertise provide the most value. A well designed and implemented Visual IVR solution helps businesses enjoy great savings while improving their customers’ experiences and relieving the pressure created by post-COVID inbound call volumes.

Photo credit: Zappix

In-Call Agent Assist Tools

Pure self-service can make a big impact on modern call centers, but blended self-service can be just as helpful. When callers do connect with live customer service agents, investigate how automation can help accelerate these live calls, reducing burden on agents and lowering average handling time (a big factor in modern customer satisfaction). Many contact centers see a large percentage (upwards of 60-80%) of calls centered around a few use cases. By equipping agents with self-service tools like self-service forms, video chat, or screen sharing they can deploy at critical moments for these calls, utility providers can add automation and relieve the pressure of modern call volumes. Tools like video chat or screen sharing can even help live agents resolve a case that would otherwise have required a field technician deployment.

Another example, bill payment, can get difficult between security requirements and long, complex card and account numbers. Agent Assist focussed self-service can deliver the perfect solution, allowing agents to handle the entire live interaction before shifting callers to self-service for the final payment submission process. Allowing customers to complete payment on their own avoids involving agents in the security process, reduces the probability of human error complicating payment, and reduces the overall time to successful resolution.

Self-Service Is The Modern Customer Service Solution

As the utility industry looks to rebound from the pandemic, many are focusing on delivering high quality digital self-service solutions as efficiently and effectively as possible. Automation and self-service has been on the minds of customer service professionals for years, but the COVID-19 pandemic put it squarely front and center. Customers demand fast, easy access to straightforward customer service solutions, including customers in the utilities industry. Leveraging self-service tools like proactive messaging, RPA, Visual IVR, and more before customers call, before they reach a live agent interaction, and even during live calls can reduce the pressure contact centers are feeling right now and deliver the premiere, convenient, and fast service modern consumers have come to expect in 2021 and beyond.

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Jul 28, 2021

No doubt there are still subsets of customers who don't want to do it themselves but want to talk to a live agent whenever possible, so it's good to see that this aspect of customer care is alsy addressed by these digital tools. That said, have you seen any efforts to use engagements with live agents to directly educate/suggest to these customers how they can or should use the self-service tools? Or would that be seen as too pushy to the customers who know what they want in dealing with agents directly? 

Johnny Rosa's picture
Johnny Rosa on Jul 28, 2021

You're totally on target. An agent simply telling a caller they could have used self-service instead of calling in can feel a bit pushy or like a brush-off. The best strategy is usually showing customers the advantages they can enjoy from self-serve instead of just telling them about it (if they're willing).

In-call agent assist tools can be a great method for introducing automation to agent-only or technology-wary callers. If an agent works directly with a caller before deploying a self-service tool for a specific issue, callers can dip a toe into self-service and see for themselves how helpful it can be (e.g. sending them to a secure payment gateway or a form for submitting complex information that can be cumbersome to repeat over the phone). Some businesses also encourage their agents to keep the live call open as cautious callers complete the self-service experience so as to further avoid the feeling of callers being brushed off.

Paul Korzeniowski's picture
Paul Korzeniowski on Aug 17, 2021

Good job. You raised good points. The reality is historically, self service was not an option because the technology did not support it. Today, it does.  Adoption does seem to come by age groups. Older folks, like me, tend to want to continue with the interaction that they are accustomed to. Younger customers prefer self-service to the traditional live interaction. 

Johnny Rosa's picture
Johnny Rosa on Aug 18, 2021

You add great insight, Paul. In our work implementing self-service solutions in various industries, we find different demographics prefer a wide range of channels and interactions. Millennials and younger generations often look for self-service first, saving live calls as a last resort, where as older generations tend to call in to live channels right off the bat. 

One self-service automation tool that has been appealing to the older generations has been Visual IVR. As callers can easily opt-in from a voice call to solve straightforward inquiries, we've found as much as 68% of traffic to some of our clients' Visual IVR implementations consists of users age 50+. Older generations might not be accustomed to self-service channels, and often don't seek it out at first, but everyone likes faster, easier interactions (at least for inquiries they perceive as straightforward, not requiring a live agent to resolve).

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Thank Johnny for the Post!
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