Transforming Utility Customer Service: Implementing Bots

Fourth in a five-part series from Eversource Energy:

Part I: Bots and Their Roles

Part II: Benefits of Bots for Customers and Utilities

Part III: Implementation

Part IV-Employee and Stakeholder Engagement

As a utility leader, if you are considering implementing bots, please remember that you will be introducing disruption into your organization. A sustained investment in robotic process automation (RPA), bots have the potential to dramatically reduce the need for staff currently completing utility back office procedures and transactions. To ensure success in implementing RPA, companies need a thoughtful approach to gain employee feedback on processes that are candidates for RPA. As bots are implemented, engaging employees is a must.

Utilities investing in bots are doing so in a very deliberate manner. In addition to recognizing the tremendous upside in operational efficiencies, there is also the understanding that long term success in botting processes has implications for employee and service to customers. Savvy utility leaders are not shying away from this disruptive investment, conversely, they are gaining knowledge and expertise in bots, especially in the implementation of strategy.

This series of articles has been exploring bots for application within utility customer service processes. Bots offer the opportunity to streamline back-office operations. Customer facing bots, such as chat bots, hold the potential to enhance the digital customer experience and increase online completion rates with proactive, timely input to customers helping them during their digital experience.

To apply bots to the most impactful processes, along with ensuring a seamless experience across bots and customer service professionals, it is important to gather employee and stakeholder feedback from the start of a bot initiative. Additionally, as you implement the initiative, ensuring employees are introduced to the new processes will pay dividends in employee acceptance and in bot benefits.

As you consider launching RPA initiatives, identify the important employee and stakeholder groups that will be impacted by this work effort. These employee and stakeholder groups can provide a treasure trove of information that will build the RPA business case.

A good starting point is to complete leadership and subject matter expert interviews across business and support groups, such as information technology and human resources. Interview employees who really know the processes. Explore the challenges employees face in completing various tasks and document the systems involved. Leadership interviews provide insight on the impact of the various processes on the business and customers.  These interviews should identify which processes are the most cumbersome, time consuming or are prone to errors.

Another tool to gain insight on RPA process candidates is to complete surveys. Surveys are a great tool to gather feedback from a large group of employees. Consider asking which process annoys you the most? Explore why? Include some rating scales to gather benchmark data on the current state of the process. This can be useful, post implementation, as a comparison point.

Doing customer service representative side by sides will provide you with first-hand knowledge on specific manual processes. Consider recording and documenting the number and sequence of steps. This can even be recorded on video. A recording of the process can be used, post implementation, as a comparison of before and after.

As you move into RPA deployment consider using road shows to communicate the initiative. A road show involves both telling and showing employee and stakeholders the RPA ideas and impact.

In addition to road shows, webinars are a great tool to educate employees and stakeholders. It is is particularly useful for employees dispersed geographically.

As you implement, ensure there is a thorough training plan to help employees learn the new processes. The training should be inclusive of instruction on the new steps involved in the process and provide a primer on the business case for RPA.   

 Involving front-line employees and stakeholders early in the development of RPA is vital to the success of the overall initiative. Employees and subject matter experts are great at spinning up ideas of processes that are candidates for bots and in defining the challenges and limitations of the current manual processes. This early employee engagement supports the development of the botable inventory and the associated business cases.

RPA is an exciting tool that brings benefits to customers, business and employees.  Customers benefit from processes that are always available and accurate.  Businesses will gain benefits from reduced process cycle time, reduced errors, and increased production. And employees benefit by the removal of labor intensive, frustrating manual work.

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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