If utilities across North America had one mission that superseded all others, historically, it was to keep the power on. That’s still true today.
But customer engagement has drastically changed. In the past, utilities engaged with customers in a most fundamental way—through transactions. Customers used a service, utilities issued a paper bill, and customers paid it at their local office or by U.S. mail.
Times have changed, and technology has chiseled new directions for utilities. In the last decade, gas, electric, and water utilities have become very serious about being customer-centric and delivering exceptional customer service and value. Consumers are expecting and demanding more from their utilities—they want transparency in pricing, more self-service, and convenience. They see other industries providing easier and more convenient ways to pay a bill or schedule a service call, and they want that same flexibility from the companies that keep the power on and the water flowing through their pipes.
Increasing customer value is a direction utilities are taking, by working to understand what customers want and then trying to provide those services. Value is perceived at various levels, so value needs to be delivered at various levels.
Steve Jobs once said, “You can’t just ask customers what they want and then try to give that to them. By the time you get it built, they’ll want something new.”
Business impacts of a changing customer base includes investment in more technology, enabling call centers and business operations to provide more valued services to the customer, such as real-time information about consumption and time-of-use. In addition, all business operations that interact with customers need more knowledge, and thus more training, since customers are doing more self-service tasks and now call with more complicated matters. Customer Care employees need to be empowered with knowledge-based tools that provide task-based, just-in-time information to help navigate customer interactions.
In late 2013 and early 2014, Georgia Power Company sponsored a benchmark report on Customer Care in the utility industry, conducted by Mosaic, a national training and workforce consulting firm. Key executives from Customer Care units representing nine utilities across the U.S. were interviewed about the current status of Customer Care initiatives and future trends of this vital segment in their industry.
Participating utilities included Georgia Power, Florida Power & Light, Duke Energy, Pacific Gas & Electric, PECO, Los Angeles Department of Water & Power, Santee Cooper, Ameren and We Energies.
Several customer care themes emerged from the utilities participating in the benchmark study.
• Utilities are increasing their focus on communicating and providing information through the varied communication channels most used by consumers. Many of these channels are changing. All participating utilities reported an increased focus on providing and strengthening self-service communication channels, with several reporting an increased focus on utilizing mobile applications to deliver and receive customer information.
• All utilities are proactively taking steps to increase the speed in which they respond to customer questions and concerns. Success in this effort is seen as foundational to customer satisfaction.
• Utilities are expanding the number and types of performance metricsthey are utilizing to measure customer satisfaction.
• Training of new customer service representatives continues to be critical to customer care success. More than 70 percent of participating utilizes reported being actively engaged in improving their new hire training efforts. All utilities continue to use a mix of formal and On-the-Job, with a significant emphasis being placed on OJT training.
• Utilities are increasing their emphasis on providing more pro-active communication to their customers, especially in context to power outages and service disruptions. They see this effort as a strong tool in increasing customer satisfaction, as well as reducing the number of inbound customer contacts during storms and other power outage situations.
• Utilities are continuing to increase their use of Interactive Voice Response. Current utilization ranges from 0 to 38 percent with the goal of increasing utilization from 40 to 50 percent. Utilities report that increased utilization of IVR both reduces customer service expense and increases customer satisfaction when successfully implemented.
• There is an increasing focus to coordinate and improve the quality and consistency of all customer interactions, not just call center interactions. Utilities engaged in this effort are encouraged by the results and are committed to continuously improving. They see the synergy between all customer facing departments as being very beneficial to increase customer satisfaction and enhance organizational coordination and efficiencies.
To read more about the 2014 Benchmark Report, click here or contact Mosaic at email@example.com.