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The Challenge Facing Utilities for Meeting Customer Expectations

Competition changes everything, and while the energy sector remains highly regulated, things are evolving rapidly and utilities face new challenges that cannot be left unmet. Technology is reshaping every segment of our economy, and never before have customers held so much sway. The passive energy consumer of yesterday is giving way to customers that are engaged, empowered and informed. They want to do their part for a green environment; they want to know where their energy comes from, how much they’re using, and of course, how much they’re paying. Consumers may be captive to their local utility for power, but options from renewable sources are growing, so their business can no longer be taken for granted.

Today’s energy consumer has powerful communication tools, requires mobile access to customer service, and actively participates in voicing an opinion on social networks. In an always-on world, utilities cannot meet their needs with legacy technology and monopolistic thinking. It’s never been more important to tie great customer service to responsiveness across every communication channel, to proactive communication that anticipates customer needs, and to informed service representatives who know all about the consumer at the moment of any contact.

How is energy sector innovation impacting specific communication needs? As the promise of Smart Grid progresses, there will be a greater need for utilities to work with consumers not just as customers, but as partners. In time, they will be able to sell energy back into the grid or even go off the grid altogether. When electric vehicles become more common, new business opportunities will arise. Whenever utility customers change their energy consumption model, there is a very real opportunity to be proactive, to reach out with options for cost savings and improved service. But this requires tying known information to triggered outbound customer service events, in a way that surprises and delights the consumer.

Even more important is the impact of smart meters, creating an unprecedented two-way flow of real time data that has implications for both parties. These intelligent devices offer benefits as part of a new connected network, the Internet of Things (IoT). Automated detection of faults, dramatic shifts in usage, or observable patterns of consumption can provide deep insights that may inform intelligent, advisory communication with customers. Although Big Brother concerns over privacy and security may be concerning to some, the advantages can be dramatic.

These are just some of the changes impacting customer expectations, and for the most part, utilities are just starting to prepare for the challenge. The role of the contact center has never been more important, and agents need to understand the need to provide a great customer experience. Putting customers on hold for 20 minutes while they have no power is not an option, and nor is leaving them to navigate a maze of IVR options for automated service.

The stakes are much higher now, and aside from providing a more human touch, utilities must have the right technology to deliver great service. When customers have better communications tools than agents, this becomes a near-impossible task. To keep up with these changes, you have to be thinking about multichannel platforms and real-time integration of CRM data into every session. You need to provide automated outage notifications to mobile devices. You need to gather inputs from smart meters and other sources to stay informed.

All of these factors will create new data flows, empowering agents to solve problems like never before - but only if the technology is in place to support that. If this doesn’t reflect where your contact center is heading, it’s time to re-boot. Just ask yourself how effectively you could respond to a major power outage tomorrow, and then how that would reflect on customer satisfaction the day after.

John Cray's picture

Thank John for the Post!

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