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Is proactive communication the best utility communication?

Do you ever hear your customer say? 

Inform me before I inform you;  Find me before I find you; Text me before I text you.

Then you're probably reading the right article.

20 years ago, it was literally impossible for the utilities to contact their customers in an emergency situation. Customers had no choice but to contact the nearby power station to check the status on unexpected outages. With the change in era, the customers got an edge with the ready information available at their perusal. When it comes to the utilities, they can reach out to the customers even before they reach out to them. Internet has made the customers smarter and they seek technology for the rescue. 99% of the population in America between the age of 18 to 49 - owns a cell phone. They get a notification from a restaurant when their seat is ready so why not send them a notification when there is a power cut.

‘I want it now!’ yes, that’s how a customer reacts. The experience they seek is like that of Google, Amazon, Facebook, & Twitter. The utility customers desire to receive proactive alerts for different events rather than keeping a track themselves. Events like ‘Bill Payments’, ‘Outages', 'High Energy Usage', etc. holds at most importance in the customers’ mind. When the weather turns bad, the customers have little patience for service interruptions and have high expectations from utilities in terms of customer service. Gone are the days when the customer-utility interaction was once a month for the bill payment. Today’s customer wants to see the usage and billing information at a click away.

Since ages, utility industry have thought about energy distribution and not customer engagement. It needs to change as the customers have changed and embrace the digital world with open arms. Utilities are slowly incorporating the importance of technology and are leveraging the self-service platforms for digital customer engagement. The question is – Is that enough? The utilities need to dive deeper into the customer behavior to bridge the customers' need with their product offerings. Predict that you're not sure of; chances of leaving a customer happy are more.

Common communication channel preferences among U.S. millennials

One of the most common misconception is that customers will always call in the customer care for immediate assistance. The millennials are ahead in the digital age and prefers to do everything online. Sometimes, they do like a personal touch of calling in the customer care number. But different communication channels have their own significance. For instance, for promotional activities they prefer an email over an IVR call; for quick but convenient real time communication they prefer a chatbot rather than a push notification; for immediate action they prefer a Push Notification over a phone call; & to collect feedback they would prefer an email instead of a live chat. Text and Push notification eliminates the need to wait for a phone queue or printed mail processing. This makes proactive electronic delivery an ideal choice for everything from payment due notifications to reminders and administrative updates. Unlike an automated interactive voice response (IVR) call, which may fail to reach someone for any number of reasons, over 99% of text messages are successfully delivered. And research shows that people open over 90% of all texts received. So, no 'one channel' is highly preferred. It’s the combination of channels that the customer prefers to communicate with. As per research done by Foresee, less than 50% of the customers get the query solved in the first attempt. However, they do prefer to come back to the same channel of communication and most of the customers get the results in the second attempt.

Way Forward

Proactive prompts not only give more power to the customers but also provide ease to the Utilities' CSR at the back end. Hidden operational tasks that once took a lot of time and cost have become better with data analytics. ‘Going a step ahead in customer engagement’ is the need of hour as it can improve the customer satisfaction score by multi folds. By 2020, customer experience will overtake price and product as the most important brand differentiator (via Gartner). Utilities should not leave behind any stone unturned to enhance their digital customer engagement. Thus, adding proactive communication in the business strategy levels up the customer satisfaction score.

'Important information, not at the exact time but before time'

Sonam Jain's picture

Thank Sonam for the Post!

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