Cloud Communications an Alternative for Utilities

By Kathleen Fortsch, Intelliverse

Much has been written about the benefits of cloud computing-centralized services from a third party that offer enterprise-class applications easily accessed and delivered over the Internet. Cloud services allow a business to use technology without becoming an expert in that technology. Regardless of the specific application, cloud services typically are pay-for-use, provide the latest versions of specific technology without requiring a business to undertake costly and timely upgrades, and are scalable in either direction, allowing a company to easily grow easily into or unwind from a particular channel or line of business.

Cloud computing originally targeted smaller businesses that didn’t have the capital or information technology resources to invest in the hardware and software required for an in-sourced solution. Quicker implementation and ease of deployment across a disparate workforce has made cloud computing attractive to many companies, even small-to-medium sized. Common cloud computing applications include off-site data backup, outsourced data centers,servers or both and software-as-a-service (SaaS), which can apply to everything from email and productivity applications, such as Microsoft 365 and Google Apps, to customer relationship management (CRM), such as Salesforce.com.

A subset of cloud computing that has received attention recently is cloud communications. Cloud communications uses cloud-based services for voice services for communication within an organization, as well as between a business and its customers. The benefits of cloud computing are seen also in cloud communications. The voice communications industry is known for using expensive equipment that seems to be obsolete within weeks of purchase; therefore, anything that reduces hardware purchases is usually attractive. In addition, because communications technology is often proprietary, many businesses must employee people who are skilled in these specific technologies, even if the nature of the business has nothing to do with communication or technology.

Using cloud communications at utilities

The cloud can offer utilities innovative ways to communicate with their customers and vice versa without investing the time, money and resources traditionally required to deploy voice applications. Cloud-based services enable providers to service more customers. These services increase automation through logical and relevant self-service applications and make effective use of limited budgets.

Using automation and real-time communications applications for inbound customer contact, such as a customer service line that allows customers access to account information, bill pay options and service activation dates, provides value-driven, user-controlled functionality. In addition, these applications enhanced with on-demand customer support help reduce the high costs of live support for every call. First-contact call resolution is rated. Most important when evaluating a company’s customer support, according to Convergys’ U.S. Customer Scorecard Research, 2011. In addition, research from McKinsey & Co. reveals 60 percent of customers favor an automated option for many simple interactions. Utilities can answer the challenge of cost controls and fulfill their customers’ requests the first time.

What utilities should know

Automation and self-service capabilities are provided by interactive voice response (IVR) technology. IVR technology can be premises-based, allowing a utility to purchase equipment, install it in its own data center and build self-service customer applications. Another option would be to use IVR technology with a purchased cloud service. In the cloud arrangement, a utility discusses its requirements with its cloud communications provider and relies on the provider to design a solution that uses proven industry best practices. Just like a good self-service solution can improve customer service, a badly designed solution can alienate customers quickly.

After the solution is designed, the provider creates the application on its own network infrastructure and makes it available by pointing the utility’s existing phone numbers to its network or providing new phone numbers.

Utilities also can take advantage of automated outbound applications to contact their customers. Outbound campaigns can be set up to dial a preset list of customers and deliver a message or connect the caller with an available agent. Marketing promotions can be bolstered by delivering information about new programs and services. Notifications about scheduled maintenance or unexpected service outages can be sent proactively to affected customers quickly and efficiently. And, collections efforts can be more successful.

A cloud-based contact center management solution can enhance customer contact applications and outbound campaigns. Automated call distributors (ACDs), which distribute calls that come through a front-end IVR to a queue, once were premise-based and centrally located, requiring their customer service organizations to be. With the flexibility to distribute calls over the globe as easily as within a building, utilities can take advantage of the benefits a flatter world. A universal contact center workforce allows companies to get the best-in-class agents-those who are trained, skilled and adept in a particular capacity, language or technology-to represent them and service their customers.

For business communications, cloud-based Internet Protocol telephony or voice overInternet Protocol (VoIP) provides business class phone features and functionality. In the past, organizations requiring business class phone features had to purchase, house and manage a phone system in a central location. If multiple locations existed, separate systems had to be purchased. Although they might have had the same features, these phone systems were not interconnected. Different locations felt like different companies. Cloud-based communication services allow phone features and functions to be controlled centrally while removing the distance and geographic barrier. Capabilities once available only to corporate locations are extended to employees in locations across cities, countries and the globe.

Using the cloud to communicate with customers and enabling them to communicate more easily with utilities improves the communication experience for customer service representatives and customers.

Kathleen Fortsch is director of product management at Intelliverse, a provider of automated communications technologies in the business-to-business market.

Advantages of the cloud

  • Pay-as-you-go
  • Concentrate on your main business
  • Reduced capital costs
  • Always have latest technology

Applications of cloud communications for utilities

  • Customer self-service (IVR)
  • Proactive outbound notifications (IVR)
  • Call center solutions (ACD)
  • Business phone service (VoIP) 

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