by Penni McLean-Conner, Eversource Energy
I just returned from CS Week in Charlotte, North Carolina. CS Week, the premier utility customer service venue, exceeded my expectations. With more than 1,900 attendees, 77 workshops, 129 exhibitors (30 new ones) and plenty of networking, CS Week delivered excellent ideas for utility leaders to enhance customer service and optimize operations.
I heard a lot of buzz around chat from leaders who had just read my article. They agree that the transformation of call centers to contact centers is real and happening now. Many utilities offer or are planning to offer chat to their customers. This article builds upon the chat business case in my previous article by exploring chat best practices. As a reminder, chat is another form of customer contact, is offered real time and is concise in nature. Chat enhances customer satisfaction by personalizing the online experience and supports customers fulfilling transactions the first time in the online channel of their choice.
Hours of operation. Chat can be offered 24/7 but also is offered during stated business hours. If you are considering chat only for certain times, monitor online transaction traffic to determine the best hours to support chat. And if you are offering chat only during certain hours, be sure your website states that the service is unavailable during other hours.
Oncor customer service representatives engage in chat to solve customer concerns.
Chat queues. Just as in our inbound phone operations, there can be queues in chat. And just like during times of high call volumes when we inform customers upfront of the situation, it is as important to do this with chat so customers understand the reason for the delay in responses.
Keep it simple. Customers must complete a sign-on process to initiate chat. The best sign ons are short and do not require customers to fill in too many fields.
Design quality criteria. As you launch chat, define the characteristics of a quality chat experience just as you would define a quality call. Then measure and evaluate chat quality using the chat transcripts.
Select the right chat agents. A wonderful customer service representative (CSR) on the phone might not be the best chat CSR. A good chat agent must know the business, demonstrate critical thinking skills while interpreting customers’ needs and have good multitasking skills. Chat agents normally support two to four customers concurrently. Typing proficiency also allows agents to handle more customers concurrently.
Train chat agents. Companies that have successfully offered chat, such as Oncor, realized the need for training.
“The importance of providing thorough and comprehensive training on chat for CSRs is vital,” said Pam Wheat, director of contact center operations at Oncor.
Oncor trained a select group of existing, very knowledgeable e-business agents to become chat agents in a twoday session that combined classroom training with chat practice sessions. In addition, Oncor completed a significant amount of quality review with coaching during the first six weeks. The training covered chat criteria and etiquette using the chat job aid and escalation processes.
Provide professional chat support. Chat agents should be professional and polite. The best agents provide a blend of canned responses with free-form edits. Although emoticons and abbreviations such as LOL (laugh out loud) are common in text conversations, they are inappropriate for business chat conversations. Providing customers with appropriate openings and closings also is important.
Correct spelling and grammar. In the text world, spelling and grammar rules are relaxed. In chat, correct spelling is preferred when responding to customers. In addition, remind chat agents to avoid typing in all UPPERCASE, which is considered rude.
Engage customers. Chat agents are supported with a chat job aid that provides pre-canned responses, but agents are encouraged to make each session positive by using the customer’s name provided and adding in words such as “OK,” “Sure,” and “Awesome,” to reassure the customer that agents are engaged.
Utilities interested in improving customer satisfaction and gaining operation efficiency are pursuing chat. Oncor is a great case study.
“Chat is a win, win, win opportunity,” Wheat said. “Customers love the chat option, efficiency has been improved and employees enjoy the opportunity to learn new skills
Penni McLean-Conner is the chief customer offcer at Eversource Energy, the largest energy delivery company in New England. A registered professional engineer, McLean-Conner is active in the utility industry and serves on several boards of directors including CS Week and the American Council for an Energy Effcient Economy. Her latest book, “Energy Effciency: Principles and Practices,” is available at www.penn wellbooks.com. Reach her at penelope.conner @eversource.com.