Electric Utility Business Case for Live Chat

By Penni McLean-Conner, Eversource Energy

Companies are investing in chat to enhance their customers’ experience, increase sales and improve operational efficiencies. Savvy utility customer service leaders recognize these same benefits apply to the utility business and either are offering or planning to offer live chat to tap these benefits.

During the next series of columns, I will explore live chat services. This first article provides insight on chat basics and the business case for chat. Future columns will explore best practices in offering chat and provide insight into the technologies and success stories associated with chat.

Chat is another form of customer contact. Chat sessions are offered in real time and typically are concise. Chat can be offered either as a static invitation or combined with a predictive analytics tool targeting specific customer behaviors. The most common chat approach is the static offering of live chat.

In a static live chat model, a chat invitation is placed on various pages of a website. Customers choose to engage in live chat. In this case, the chat support system might not even know why a customer is on the website.

But when live chat is combined with a predictive analytics tool, a more powerful customer experience can be engineered. This type of live chat, or predictive chat, is proactively offered selectively with a goal to enhance transaction success and reduce website abandonment. This type of approach invites customers to join the conversation. Predictive chat is supported with an analytics system that analyzes customer behavior and offers chat when a customer seems stymied or confused.

Utility customer service leaders recognize they must offer multiple communications channels for customers to meet the varying needs of a diverse customer base that includes a rapidly growing number of tech-savvy customers. As such, utilities are transforming their traditional call centers to contact centers that support live voice answer plus email, social and chat. The investment in chat drives enhanced customer experience and operational efficiencies.

Enhanced Customer Experience

Live chat provides the conversational, personal aspect of a live voice-answer experience with the efficiency and convenience of a digital experience. A website augmented with live chat creates a memorable, personal experience that customers see as a differentiator.

Chat offers customers easy, low-effort access to live customer service. Contrast this with the level of effort required by a customer to reach a customer service rep via phone. Besides dialing the right number, customers often must wade through an interactive voice response (IVR) menu to finally reach a customer service rep. With chat, a customer simply clicks the chat button and provides basic information to initiate the conversation.

First-contact resolution drives customer satisfaction. Live chat can reduce a customer’s need to call the call center or email after a failed Web experience. A chat agent can coach a customer through a transaction in real time, preventing the frustration associated with not being able to complete a transaction. Further, data shows that first-call resolution of live chat is much higher than traditional telephone or email-based customer service.

Enhanced Operational Efficiencies

Operational efficiencies occur both from efficiency and effectiveness standpoints. Definite customer service rep efficiencies can be gained from chat. More important, companies are more effective with overall contact resolutions by offering chat.

At the most fundamental perspective, chat increases customer service rep productivity because they can manage multiple concurrent chats vs. the one-to-one experience involved with traditional phone and email channels. Chat requires fewer agents to support the same volume of contacts because chat agents can handle multiple customer interactions at the same time.

Companies that offer chat reduce overall contacts by reducing repeat calls. Chat intercepts potential call center, IVR, social and email service transactions by supporting customers in real time to complete Web self-service. Companies that offer predictive chat can discern when a customer is having trouble completing a transaction and offer chat to help the customer at that critical moment.

Call centers are transforming to contact centers. Utility leaders want to meet and serve their customers in an easy, personalized manner in each customer’s choice of channel. Many utility customer service leaders are investing in live chat and gaining the positive return on investment in operations and customer satisfaction.

Penni McLean-Conner is the chief customer officer 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 Efficient Economy. Her latest book, ­”Energy ­Efficiency: ­Principles and Practices,” is ­available at www.penn wellbooks.com. Reach her at penelope.conner @eversource.com.

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The Clarion Energy Content Team is made up of editors from various publications, including POWERGRID International, Power Engineering, Renewable Energy World, Hydro Review, Smart Energy International, and Power Engineering International. Contact the content lead for this publication at Jennifer.Runyon@ClarionEvents.com.

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