Five ways technology can transform utility telephone customer service
Customer expectations are changing dramatically when it comes to utility telephone customer service. Customers want a strong, supportive experience, particularly considering that the telephone remains the primary channel for service. Failing to deliver on these expectations can have major consequences. In fact, ContactBabel research found the utility sector is losing £448 million every year in revenue due to customers switching because of excessive contact centre queuing times.
As well as fast, helpful customer service customers want greater advice and reassurance. This includes tips on how to reduce their bills and information on becoming more sustainable, such as by installing their own solar panels.
Unfortunately, the energy sector has found it tough to deliver on these customer needs. In fact, Ofgem recently released a scathing review of telephone service provided by the 17 largest energy providers. Every single company in the report was identified as having a major or minor customer service weakness. Among the problems highlighted were:
- People waiting on the phone for hours, leading to 50% simply hanging up
- Inconsistency in the scripts used by customer staff when handling complex calls
- Unanswered customer calls and slow responses to written customer interactions
- High rates of customer complaints which have been upheld by the Energy Ombudsman
- Incomplete management information being used to monitor performance
- Weaknesses in customer service agents’ training and/or quality control mechanisms
These failings tally closely with consumer research from Citizens’ Advice and Ofgem. This found that call volumes were increasing by up by 300% for some suppliers while overall customer satisfaction was amongst the worst since tracking began in 2018.
How can utilities transform telephone customer service?
Given the complexity and personal nature of many customer service interactions, the telephone remains the most important channel for utility companies. However, calls can take a long time to resolve, adding to waiting times for those on hold.
Essentially, utilities must improve the performance of their telephone service if they want to retain customers and avoid regulatory action. There are five important ways in which technology can help with this:
1. Empower agents
Agents within utility companies need the right tools to resolve queries, quickly, accurately, and consistently. One of the essentials is an up-to-date knowledge base which provides templated answers and scripts to increase First Contact Resolution. Another priority is a unified desktop allowing agents to access all the tools and systems they need in a single place. This can dramatically speed up response times and improve the agent experience too.
2. Increase capacity
Providing self-service options via the web, chatbots and IVR, while facilitating secure online access to customer account information reduces the number of inbound calls. By deflecting these routine enquiries, capacity is freed up to answer the more complex queries. Switching to a cloud-based contact centre also increases capacity. It provides the flexibility to easily scale customer service infrastructure to meet changing needs, such as during emergency weather situations. Additionally, it allows agents to work remotely.
3. Improve the customer experience
Technologies such as proactive call management systems and IVR solutions improve the telephone customer experience, particularly in respect to on-hold calls. When call queues are growing customers can be presented with estimated wait times and offered call back options or access to information via IVR.
4. Better management information
Ofgem highlighted incomplete performance monitoring as an issue impacting customer service. Utilities therefore need to build a holistic picture of performance to both meet SLAs and ensure they are operating effectively. Technologies such as call recording, quality management, AI-powered analysis, speech analytics, and Voice of the Customer systems all help collect and act on this management information. Data analysis, through AI, can provide deeper insights into individual agent performance as well highlighting areas for improvement.
5. Boost efficiency
Automation and AI make contact centre processes more efficient. For example, with 80% of calls requiring customers to go through identification processes, utilities should manage security verification via IVR, while the caller is on hold. This allows agents to immediately focus on the customer’s query when they’re put through. Process automation such as around call wrap-ups allow agents to move onto their next call faster. AI can also play a role by analysing incoming interactions and auto-suggesting answers. Additionally, it can prioritise calls from vulnerable customers or automatically route calls to specific teams.
Good telephone customer service is at the heart of delivering the experience that utility customers demand. Focusing on the right technology is essential to both improving performance and attracting and retaining customers. To learn more about making the right technology choices read our new utility customer service guide.