Utilities and Omnichannel Customer Service

September 17, 2013
Mike Hughes, Managing Director – Europe

Utility Companies often get a bad reputation for customer service. In some cases, utility companies would probably top people’s list of least favorite service providers and a bad customer service experience only compounds the problem. According to a recent article on Examiner.com, “utility companies see themselves in the business of providing the utilities, rather than serving the customer...it would benefit the companies to see customers as an integral part of their operation, rather than an inconvenience. In other words, companies that have stopped making excuses for poor service and instead embraced the idea of serving the customer are the companies that are succeeding today.” Due to mergers, acquisitions and other changes, today’s utility companies often end up with a myriad of IT systems that can create information siloes making the delivery of streamlined customer service challenging at best. The very nature of the utility industry requires round-the-clock customer service in the event of a power outage, downed electricity line or new service hookup.

Utilities don’t always fare well in customer service rankings. According to the American Customer Satisfaction Index, utilities fared in the middle of the pack in terms of customer service. They wereahead of the likes of phone, airlines and retail, but below the hospitality, healthcare and e-commerce industries. According to NCSI-UK research, utility companies in the United Kingdom ranked second to last in overall customer service with only Internet Service Providers getting lower scores. 

The Examiner.com article states, “Utility companies are like any other business that makes a living from their customers. Unfortunately, not all utility companies today see their industry as customer service-focused. Those companies that do embrace the service factor may find they have a larger, more loyal customer base and fewer customer complaints to handle overall.

Embracing the goal of providing good customer service is the first step but that doesn’t just mean answering a toll free number. Utility companies, like companies in the financial services, retail, telecommunications and other industries, must now embrace the world of omnichannel customer service where customers use a variety of devices as they traverse mobile, chat, online and phone channels.

According to a new [24]7.ai survey done in the United Kingdom, omnichannel customer service is already starting to take hold with 92% of consumers using a variety of different channels to communicate with their utility provider’s customer service departments. The survey revealed that while the most popular way to interact with customer service was to pick up the phone and talk to a utility provider, new channels are also starting to grow in popularity. Utilities should be mindful of this so they can deliver the same standard of customer service on all channels.

  • Landline – 66 percent
  • Online - 50 percent
  • Mobile – 22 per cent
  • Live chat – 15 percent
  • In person - 10 percent

Using Big Data for Intuitive Customer Service

Customers get frustrated when their utility firms do not know who they are or what their issue is, even when they have already communicated via another channel.)  It’s no wonder that, if a customer interacts over the phone to make a change to their account, and then goes online and there is no recognition of the previous call, they get upset. From the survey we found that 20 percent of customers expect utility firms to know what they want based on previous contact they have had with them.

Utilities must also use the data stored in their system about their customers to predict issues and deal with them promptly and efficiently. Data is an incredibly powerful tool for any organization to utilize and there is no question that utility firms hold enough data on their customers to understand and predict customer intent and enable them to move seamlessly across a variety of channels to improve the customer’s experience.

It’s good that so many people are using so many different channels to interact with their utility provider. But the next step in delivering true omnichannel customer service lies in using big data to offer a more intuitive customer service, allowing utility customers to complete their interactions across channels and devices.

Mike Hughes, Managing Director – Europe
Mike Hughes, Managing Director – Europe

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