Changing Regulations and Consumer Perceptions Create New Problems
Utility companies are facing new challenges including deregulation, pressure to cut costs from all sides, and ever increasing customer expectations, especially in service overall and outage restoration. Utility providers are also struggling to drive customer loyalty beyond offering lower service costs. Utility companies continually have to provide more to their subscribers with fewer resources at their disposal, especially with many customers tightening their belts, becoming more eco-conscious, and reducing their consumption of utilities like gas and electricity. Consumers, now more than ever, are closely looking at ways to reduce costs throughout their home, and their utility usage is no exception. Deloitte’s resource 2012 Study found “83% of consumers [surveyed said] that they took steps to reduce their electricity consumption over the past year.” Improving the customer service experience with each interaction is one way to increase customer loyalty and has a ripple effect that results in lower operating costs and the retention of a larger number of customers. Utility companies should focus on improving field operations, responding to outages, and to reducing billing errors. On the one hand, customers should assume that the utility “just works;” we understand, however, that there are still a lot of moving parts to making that so.
Focus on improving field operations, responding to outages, and reducing billing errors
Our experience with Utilities has allowed us to develop industry specific solutions that address many of the unique challenges facing utility providers, including:
- Utility subscribers seeking access to their account status and other important information 24/7.
- Providing an easy and convenient way for utility customers to start, stop, suspend, and transfer service.
- When utility outages occur, allowing subscribers to report them quickly and efficiently and updating subscribers with information regarding the outage.
- Ensuring utility subscribers can keep scheduled service appointments with their utility service providers.
Handling payment arrangements for subscribers that are eligible according to the PUC.
- Reminding subscribers their payment for utility services is due or past due.
- Adhering to federal and state laws in regards to notifying subscribers of service disconnections.
Automating common transactions within the Utility Industry, such as account management, payment reminders, service outage reporting, is one way to provide timely service while still reducing costs to your company.
Recently, TeleTech conducted a customer study and found that customers appreciate automation “…when the application provides clear, concise, and quick access to the information they need.” Allowing customers the option to access their account information, such as account balance inquiries, payment due dates, and payment history, as well as update certain information, can often be the difference between a satisfied customer and a frustrated one. The solution should also offer customers the ability to pay their bills quickly, easily, and securely by phone.
Typically used by home owners who are relocating, this self-serve option can alleviate long queue wait times in a secure manner. The application has to be sophisticated enough to capture complex data such as address information, switching dates, and specific services. Offering this type of application is essential for a utility company, as the United States population is considered highly mobile and roughly “12% of people in the country…moved at least once” between 2011 and 2012 according to the U.S. census. Utilization of an intelligent solution should make it simple and easy to start service for new subscribers. If a subscriber is moving out of the service provider area, the same solution must be able to also accommodate these types of calls quickly, thereby saving the company money on otherwise expensive calls that would need to be handled by a live agent. If a subscriber is simply relocating to a nearby address (within the service provider area), allowing them the ability to update their account information and transfer service should also be an option provided by the intelligent voice self-service solution to retain the customer and their loyalty in a competitive market or regional support in a purely regulated market .
Eaton’s Black-Out Tracker Annual Report found “on average 13,442 people were affected for 154 minutes per outage in 2012 and power failures caused problems for people and businesses in all 50 states.” Panic often strikes in the hearts of customers experiencing service interruption due to a power outage, burst pipe, or some other issue that disrupts service to customers. When service is disrupted, customers want to contact the service provider and get service reinstated as quickly as possible. Allowing subscribers the ability to call in unexpected outages will offer some peace of mind to those inconvenienced. An automated outbound solution will also be able to detect the subscribers within the disrupted service area and be able to update them with important information regarding the downtime and when service can be expected to resume. Most utilities in the US have this basic system in place today, however it is usually free-standing and not integrated with all other self-service options.
Offering customers appointment reminders not only saves money, but saves time for your field technicians. Calling subscribers to remind them of upcoming appointments and ensure they will be home to meet with the field technician is one way to reduce operating costs. If a subscriber is unable to keep an appointment, offering them the chance to reschedule on the same phone call saves your subscriber time and your company dollars on these outbound calls.
Payment Reminders/Disconnect Notices
It happens all the time, customers forget to pay their bill and poor communication or diligence often leads to their service being disconnected due to non-payment. An outbound call to subscribers offering a friendly payment reminder is a great way to keep revenue coming in and ensure customers do not experience service interruptions. In the event that a customer does not respond to these payment reminders and their account becomes delinquent, another outbound call notifying the customer that their service will be disconnected if they do not pay in a timely manner can save the customer aggravation. In many states, this type of notification is required by law. In California, for instance, state law requires that consumers be notified 15 days prior to disconnection followed by a second notice depending on the electric service provider. In the event a customer simply forgot to pay their bill, offering the option to pay over the phone is a great way to efficiently get an account current and avoid service interruption. We also know that subscribers living on a shoe-string budget will push that 15 day window to the max and will call every day to see if today is the day the service is going to get shut off. This is an expensive and wasteful circus of activity that voice self-service can easily handle.