Utilities Can Power Customer Experiences with Conversational AI

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3 minute read

As customer satisfaction declines, and provider competition grows, utility providers should investigate AI for customer care.

Like most organizations, companies within the utility services industry are feeling the pressure to reimagine customer experiences. Customer satisfaction is in decline as expectations for personalized digital experiences grow, and provider competition is fiercer than ever. To differentiate from competitors and delight customers with superior service, utility providers must power their customer experience with AI and automation.

Plummeting utility customer satisfaction is an industry-wide problem. In the past year, Cogent Syndicated (via GlobeNewswire) determined that the overall “Customer Effort Score,” which measures the effort customers must go through to resolve a utility-related issue, declined by six points, with most interactions being rated as “more difficult this year.”

However, some service providers are faring better than others, and it’s important to note the reasons why. According to McKinsey, the providers that are performing in the top-quartile for customer experience are focused on “optimizing customer journeys,” as well as improving upon the “satisfaction drivers” that matter most to customers, such as receiving and paying bills, and how providers handle unplanned outages. The top customer experience performers have taken the lead by zeroing in on what their customers care about, highlighting the need for all utility providers to prioritize customer expectations to ensure future success.

Utility Customers Want Personalized Digital Experiences

While contact centers have been the primary channel for customer support in the utility services industry, customers’ increased desire for support via SMS, chat and self-service has put pressure on providers to improve their digital experiences. Some were quick to respond to this growing demand at the start of the pandemic, and deployed solutions to improve how customers interacted with their brand. Not surprisingly, those that increased their digital experience satisfaction also increased overall customer satisfaction.

Another growing customer demand is for more personalized services. Harvard Business Review found that customers want their utility providers to deliver “personalized information about their usage so they can adjust it for monetary and environmental savings.” Customers’ increased interest in accessing personalized insights, paired with their desire for self-service and streamlined digital experiences, makes Conversational AI the ideal solution for utility providers who want to delight their customers and stand out from the crowd.

Conversational AI agents can transform the digital customer experience for utility providers in two key areas. First, providers can deploy Conversational AI agents to enable personalized, easy self-service. Unlike chatbots, Conversational AI agents integrate with utility providers’ back-end systems and databases to provide customers with up-to-date, personalized insights, which customers can access and inquire about at any time of day through their preferred channel. When customers make requests or need to make changes to their accounts, Conversational AI agents fully resolve their questions end-to-end, without the need for human intervention.

How a Digital Agent Can Serve Utility Customers

For example, a customer could text a Conversational AI agent to ask for their recent bill, and after verifying the customer’s ID, the agent would immediately reply with the latest copy. If the customer notices a discrepancy, the agent can be asked to verify it. In the case of an incorrect charge, the Conversational AI agent would then adjust the amount owed in the provider’s accounting system and send the customer the amended bill. The customer could also ask how to lower their bill, and the agent would offer suggestions based on the customer’s usage history.

Despite the increased demand for all-digital customer experiences, call centers will likely remain a preferred channel. However, current call center operations will also need to change to seamlessly integrate with new customer experiences. For many utility providers, customer data is not currently integrated with other business units, including call centers. To ensure that customers who call for assistance receive personalized support, providers can also deploy Conversational AI agents like Amelia within their call centers to connect with customer data, either as the first point of contact or as a virtual sidekick for human call center agents.

While several traditional utility providers have been their regions’ preferred vendor for many years, especially in “monopolistic utility markets,” market dynamics are changing. Traditional providers are no longer solely competing against other traditional providers. New entrants, which are more digitally-savvy and customer-centric, are pressuring more established providers to drastically improve customer experiences. To avoid falling behind competitors, both new and old, utility providers need to act now.

The competitive landscape for utility companies is changing, but that doesn’t spell the end for traditional providers. With the right Conversational AI solution, providers can leverage the invaluable data they have collected over the years to engage current users, attract new customers and streamline processes across the enterprise – a very powerful value proposition.

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