Transforming Customer Service: Benefits of Bots for Customers and for Utilities

Bots are a hot topic with utility customer leaders.  This is not surprising considering the immense potential of bots to rapidly increase productivity and enhance the overall customer experience. Utilities are not only building business cases for bot investment, they are rapidly deploying them and proving their value.

This series of articles (see link at bottom of this story) explores the world of bots as it relates to utilities and specifically to serving customers. The first article provided basic information about bots commonly being deployed in business environments, both chatbots and robotic process automation. This article explores the benefits of bots to the utility in back-office operations and in customer-facing operations.   

Back-Office Operations

             Utility back-office operations are ripe for bots, specifically robotic process automation (RPA), as these operations are filled with predictable, repeatable tasks that are labor intensive.  RPA mimics the way a customer service representative (CSR) uses an application, thereby automating the processing.

            The benefits of RPA go beyond efficiency. The benefits also include improved accuracy and production, among others.  For back-office operations, benefits encompass:

·         Increased Production—RPA solutions improve order throughput and reduce overall process cycle time.  RPA solutions can work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. They do not require vacation or sick days. As such, task cycle time that was previously limited by the availability of CSRs is unhindered.  Processes that simply required more work than could be completed in a timely due to lack of labor, can with RPA be fulfilled in a fraction of the time.

·         Flexibility—bots can be programmed to function within any timeframe. In this way, bots can be aligned with other important and regular information technology routines to neither conflict with nor overload existing systems and automated processes.

·         Accuracy—the bots provide process consistency and accuracy. The opportunity to fat finger an entry is eliminated.

·         Creation of an Audit Trail—the transactions completed by the bots create an audit trail that can aid in responding to regulatory requirements or requests.

·         Enhanced Employee Engagement—many of the tasks best suited for RPA are onerous and boring for CSRs.  With the implementation of bots, CSRs can be deployed to other more challenging, strategic work.

Customer Facing Operations

            In talking to peer utility customer service leaders, there is much interest and indeed investment in RPA. These leaders understand that the investment in RPA brings customer-facing benefits of reduced cycle time to process orders and increased accuracy.  Fewer utility leaders have ventured into applying bots to their customer-facing operations; but here also, bots provide valuable benefits.  Chatbots or virtual agents can aide customers during their online digital navigation[CP2] , or help with decisioning amongst other benefits:

·         Branding—Implementing bots in customer-facing applications positions a company as forward-thinking and innovative. This may change in the future as bots become pervasive and potentially ubiquitous. Today though, they are not as common, so first-movers in this space gain the brand benefit of being positioned as forward-thinking[SRJ3] .

·         Digital Navigation—A bot can aid the customer in navigating a transaction. It does this by providing helpful prompts or suggestions that enable the customer to complete a transaction, in situations where they may have otherwise been stumped.

·         24/7 Customer ServiceVirtual agents [SRJ4] or chatbots can operate constantly via digital platforms. In companies that offer live chat, which is often only offered during limited hours of the day, the introduction of chatbots augments and extends self-service support to all hours of the day and days of the week.

·         Eliminate Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) —The need for FAQ pages disappears with a chatbot. Customers can simply enter a keyword or phrase to find information while in the flow of their intended navigation. This helps customers resolve issues as they arise within the natural flow of the transaction. The benefit is increased web transaction completion rates and an enhanced customer experience.

·         DecisioningChatbots[CP5]  can assist the customer in deciding on options.  They do this by offering questions that narrow a customer’s search options.  For example, a bot may proactively suggest bill payment options in situations where a customer may be confused in a bill pay transaction.

·         Triaging—Bots can be designed to triage a customer request and connect a customer to additional support and tools, including an agent as needed.

            Pioneering utilities are investing heavily in both customer-facing and back-office bots. They are doing so to enhance efficiency and productivity, all the while improving the customer experience overall.  The next article will explore the business case framework for investing in bots.

Previous Transforming Customer Service story: Bots and their Roles.

About the author: Penni McLean-Conner is chief customer officer at Eversource Energy, the largest energy delivery company in New England. She serves on several boards, including the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy.

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