With technology changing in the energy marketplace, customer experience is becoming a key component in the utility industry. Utilities are facing greater competition stemming from distributed generation and smart grid providers to increased regulation. With increased competition comes a greater emphasis on finding new customers, maintaining existing customers, and cutting costs. Globally, utilities spend billions each year on customer processes, with some of the largest expenses in billing and call center operations. Given this evolving part of the business model, what best practices can utility firms apply to improve their customer service model while also trimming costs?
Online and mobile notifications that alert customers to service outages and bill delinquencies are a key part of maintaining customer satisfaction and can minimize expensive service shut-offs. To improve inbound call center activities, utilities are turning to personalization software and straying away from more traditional (and frustrating) touch-tone systems. Software systems such as SaaS platforms are able to provide usage analytics to dispute management and process payments with the click of a button via a desktop, smartphone or tablet device.
Utilities consistently do a good job providing customers with information about their bill but do little to address why a bill is too high and what can be done to lower it. Some would argue that this is a missed opportunity to engage customers and establish greater trust. To capitalize on this growing customer need, some utilities are employing self-service tools that allow the customer to log into the utility’s site and assess their bill on a more detailed level to understand why a bill is higher or lower than normal. A small subset of the utility market is investing in more advance billing tools to engage customers if their usage is tracking higher than normal even before their bill is due. This engagement allows customers to make decisions based on their current energy usage versus any future activity and establishes a deeper loyalty between the customer and the utility. This type of activity and engagement is positioned to grow and become a norm for the industry.
With the reach of social media far outpacing conventional means of communications, utilities are turning to Twitter and Facebook, among other platforms, as a way to manage their reputations via unforeseen weather and power outage notifications. Utilities are also using these sites to inform followers on tips and resources to lowering their home or business bills. An active presence on social media not only allows utilities to be more transparent with outage information, but also gives them a platform to engage in timely conversations with their customers.
As the utility industry grapples with the challenges of a more competitive market, new customer offerings such as custom online service platforms delivered via reliable and scalable SaaS solutions and enhanced inbound calling tools spell greater customer engagement. Through consistent and reliable outbound notifications and timely information utilities will improve their customer experience and maintain a competitive edge.