Utilities are plagued with issues such as poor customer service and tone-deaf conversations negatively affecting customer trust
Engaging in seamless omni-channel conversations with customers is critical for utilities to improve their credibility
A good starting point is building capacities in channels such as mobile, the web and social media backed by analytics
The emergence of the omni-channel engagement model is not a new trend for utility companies. Here’s proof: in 2014, a leading utility company in the U.S. launched its omni-channel initiative to expand customer outreach. Customers were encouraged to interact with the company using a channel of their choice. On its part, the company ensured that its customers had a seamless and consistent experience across channels. The initiative was well received by its customers. It also enabled substantial savings for the company and helped customer satisfaction scores surge to a five-year high.
However, many utility companies are still struggling to offer the omni-channel experience to their customers. A struggle that is in stark contrast to e-commerce retailers who connect with customers seamlessly across channels, in real time and on a device of their choice. There are also other concerns that plague utility providers — poor customer service, inflated bills and tone-deaf conversations have affected customers’ trust levels. Transparent and timely communication is crucial to restore eroded customer trust.
As the goalposts for customer satisfaction shift rapidly, are utility companies doing enough to catch up with their digitally savvy customers? Research shows the following trends for the average utility customer:
They will be increasingly smart-meter-enabled and digitally active via social media and mobile
They will demand more payment options and instant access to information and tools to manage energy usage on their own
They will expect better customer service driven by one-to-one engagements
While the above trends call for introspection on the part of utility companies, they need to act fast to prioritize efforts to provide great customer service. There is a gamut of initiatives that utilities can undertake around omni-channel communication.
Smartphones and tablets are a great way for utility providers to stay connected with their customers. Companies can provide real-time updates on expected outage or repair work, and document issues immediately. Consumers can connect instantly with the company to resolve billing issues and lodge their request for services whenever required. Mobile technology offers the comfort of networking that can benefit both companies and consumers.
By designing interactive websites driven by the gamification concept, utility companies can engage better with their customers. Customers can track their consumption patterns and learn more about reducing their carbon footprint. An inbuilt rewards program will help bring customers back to the portal repeatedly for gaining points that can be redeemed on the portal itself.
Social media channels are powerful tools that can help utility companies regain customer trust. Research shows that 50 percent of Generation Y customers prefer social media and Internet/Web chat as the preferred choices of contact. While monitoring social media channels for positive and negative feedback, companies should also respond to the feedback in real time. Their quick responses coupled with an active social media presence will strengthen the bond with customers and help them steer the conversation in a positive direction.
Bots that are driven using Artificial Intelligence (AI) and analytics can serve as virtual assistants that can answer customer queries. These bots, embedded in apps or websites, can help engage customers and enable payments as well. AI-infused technology can help forecast weather conditions and warn customers regarding storms and floods that can cause outages or other infrastructure related problems.
For the utility industry, the mandate is clear: companies should create differentiated digital customer experiences to drive customer loyalty. They have to make complex interactions across multiple channels simple, enjoyable and personalized for their customers. Transparent communication goes a long way in establishing trust and building credibility. It is about time utility companies build capacities in all the channels available to achieve these customer-centric goals.
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