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In 2020, utility providers changed in many ways, including their approach to customer service. It is not surprising for anyone, that the COVID-19 pandemic was one of the main accelerators for the transformation. According to the recent research that MaxBill conducted among the industry professionals, 73% of the energy and utility providers had to adjust their internal operations due to the health crisis. The alterations mostly consisted of digitalization and automation of the processes. “The move toward large-scale digital transformation during the past year has been a blessing and a curse for utilities,” says Jon Sundberg, senior digital manager at J.D. Power. This proves to be very true when touching upon the state of the CX in the utility industry.
J.D. Power’s recent report shows that utilities are still struggling to deliver on complex digital functions, while the overall customer satisfaction score grew 3 points on a 1,000 point scale.
The Relationships Between Customers and Utility Providers Evolve
Historically, utility service providers didn’t focus much on customer loyalty because there was virtually no competition. The situation is very different now, with smaller businesses entering the market, renewables gaining a stronghold all over the world and consumers participating in the creation of DER stations and becoming prosumers.
The first wave of the pandemic has also put pressure on the traditional utilities, as they were declared critical infrastructure in many countries, including the US, Europe and the UK. The debt collection process was modified to meet the new reality in which many people lost their job and couldn’t pay on time, while it was crucial for public health that everyone had access to running water and electricity at home.
A better-educated person has higher demands of their provider. In particular, CX is considered one of the vital aspects of customer satisfaction by the ACSI, along with the ability to provide reliable electric service, restore electric service after an outage, and support the local communities. Therefore, customer experience improvement became one of the main trends of 2021 in the energy and utility industry. It looks like the winning strategy for both traditional power and alternative energy providers is to understand their customer base’s desired before it does itself and then present compelling services and products.
Smarter Customer Care
Utility companies often have a large user base to maintain and support. They need to make the information about their services comprehensible and readily available to the customers, to avoid miscommunication and customer churn as a result. Ideally, upcoming issues and complaints have to be identified and prevented, or solved as quickly as possible. Such a task is huge and complex, which is the case scenario for process automation.
Data Analysis and 360-Degree-View
Delivering a radically positive experience to the consumer requires a deep knowledge of what they could need and want.
In order to provide extraordinary levels of personalization, utility providers can (and should) use the abundance of data they receive every day productively.
Roberta Bigliani at IDC says that customers are frustrated because they know the utilities have their data, but they don’t use it in ways that improve the customer experience. At the same time, most providers have a multitude of opportunities for enhancing CX. With help of machine learning and intelligent data processing, companies can identify consumption patterns and use the results to create specifically tailored offers for the particular user base, educate consumers about power conservation and smart usage, improve the transparency of the billing process, and many more.
Chatbots, AI and Self-Care Portals for Consumers
The traditional call centers don’t have enough capacity to handle each customer with the attention they demand. Also, there are multiple channels of the company-user interactions that have to be supervised: 96% of energy and utility businesses use more than 3 ways of communication, including phone calls, email, social media and messaging apps.
To aid customer care representatives and elevate the stress they are under, 7 out of 10 companies use some kind of customer management software. 73% of them employ smart technologies like artificial intelligence to enhance software performance.
CGS proves, that consumers want to have the opportunity to handle more tasks by themselves, a behavior that benefits both a company and a customer. Utilities can support this initiative by offering their users a self-care portal where they can view and manage their services. These platforms have to be intuitive in usage, be able to satisfy the most requests from consumers and notify the operators when the issue is too complicated or unusual. The perfect technology to answer all of the mentioned demands is hyperautomation, a combination of multiple intelligent technologies like AI and ML.
Despite providing the public with modern life essentials, energy and utility companies still have a long way of customer service evolution ahead. The aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic and the rise of the alternative distributed energy providers pushes traditional utilities to improve their CX strategy and performance.
Utilities have gathered data for many years, now it’s time to put it to good use. By using data analysis, companies can get a 360-degree view of their user base. Their current needs and pain points can be dealt with early, reducing the amount of customer dissatisfaction. Reports based on such analysis can be a good foundation for more personalized service offers and better customer targeting.
Smart technologies like hyperautomation and AI make self-care portals a great option for providers to enhance company-to-customer communication. Consumers can have more control over their services, have a clearer view of their consumption and a better understanding of the situation. High levels of engagement and transparency will, in turn, lead to improved customers’ trust and loyalty.