It’s Time for Utility Companies to Take the Digital Customer Service Leap

Customer-obsessed companies across the retail, consumer packaged goods and financial services industries have led the way in adopting digital customer service to deliver faster service and support in the channels that consumers prefer. In unregulated industries, sales highly correlate with customer loyalty, so companies focus heavily on delivering the best customer service experience possible to drive loyalty.

Traditionally, this is a less common practice among utilities, particularly those based in highly-regulated regions like the United States. However, competition is starting kick into high gear for companies offering electric, gas and energy services as the industry is forcing companies to re-think their business models and take notice of loyalty-building initiatives like digital customer service. In fact, Accenture reported that “consumers who are digitally engaged with their utilities are much more loyal– and more valuable.”

Consumers will soon be able to switch energy suppliers within 24 hours in the United Kingdom, and some U.S. states are looking at easing regulations in support of new energy services. As a result, forward-thinking power companies must focus on the experience they deliver to customers as a critical business initiative. For many, that begins with customer service. To help power companies improve experiences for their customers–and solidify loyalty–let’s first examine the case for social and digital customer service.

Driving customer loyalty by reducing effort

In today’s digital world, where events and grievances can go quickly go viral, a poor customer service experience can escalate when consumers turn to social media and digital channels to express their frustrations. One bad experience can ultimately impact loyalty and leave tremendous reputation damage. Further, an IBM benchmark study revealed that 624 million consumers worldwide are expected to use social media to engage companies providing electricity, gas, water and energy services.

Power companies relying heavily on traditional channels like phone and email to respond to customers’ issues create longer wait times for support than customers have come to expect. Then, there are companies leveraging social media for external updates and promotions, but request that customers call for support when they ask a question or express an issue on those channels. With customers expecting a response within 60 minutes, according to the IBM study focused on social engagement for utilities, both of these practices create a “high effort” experience for customers. Placing such a burden on customers ultimately tarnishes their overall experience.

Consumers ultimately prefer digital messaging for its convenience. According to eMarketer, there are 1.4 billion people worldwide that are sending over 50 billion messages each day to communicate with each other. Further, Digital Marketing Magazine states that 41 percent of millennial consumers say they would be “truly satisfied” if they could use messaging or SMS to engage companies. Leveraging social media and digital messaging for service results in both a low effort experience for customers and a greater opportunity for companies to satisfy their customers. Companies using social and digital messaging are better equipped to quickly provide answers and solutions —without having to ask customers to repeat information multiple times to multiple agents.

Empowering accurate, timely solutions and responses for panicked customers

By investing in digital customer service solutions, utility companies can also empower their call centers and customer service teams to quickly alleviate customers’ frustrations and answer service questions via messaging and on social media. Digital customer care creates the capacity for 24/7 support across digital channels, like a company’s mobile app, website chats, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and Twitter. Further, these solutions ultimately make internal processes more efficient, with the opportunity to use automated chats and bots for responses that require less consideration so that agents can focus on addressing more complicated inquiries.

As an example of one forward-thinking power company using social media and messaging apps to quickly address direct inquiries, the image below shows how ConsumersEnergy is able to provide one customer an estimated time for when he can expect his service to be restored.

When outages occur from natural disasters like hurricanes, earthquakes and snowstorms, consumers left without power often turn to social media and messaging apps to request updates. In times of crisis, customers relying on power for medical needs ultimately depend on their utility company’s customer service and support for accurate updates and alternative solutions. In these scenarios, the power of customer service extends beyond satisfaction and loyalty — to saving lives.

While customer service agents can work tirelessly to address each individual inquiry and post on company Twitter and Facebook pages, technology offers the scalability needed as agents’ ability to respond become outpaced by incoming interactions. Likewise, companies able to scale their service efforts during an outage or when the volume of inquiries suddenly surges will be a hero for their customers, ultimately getting them out of the dark.

Digital channels provide consumers a direct route to a customer service representative so that companies can ensure their customers are taken care of during emergencies and in managing more common day-to-day service issues. By improving the customer service experience, power companies have the opportunity to drive internal efficiencies, gain a competitive advantage and boost loyalty.

About the author: Anaal Patel’s expertise in digital customer engagement and building brand loyalty stems from nearly a decade of experience in the marketing and technology space. As vice president of marketing for Sparkcentral, Anaal leads marketing and communication efforts for the leading social and customer engagement platform, which empowers clients such as Delta Airlines, JetBlue, T-Mobile and Uber deliver amazing customer service experiences. 


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