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Covid-19 has accelerated an evolution in the way utilities’ customer services are delivered. Companies have had to change how they interact with customers, and digital channels have risen in importance. Read on to find out why embedding intelligent automation is key to great customer service as the utility sector looks beyond Covid-19.
Utilities are central to everyday life and work. Solutions need to be provided quickly, effectively and without interruption. Covid-19 has demonstrated that organisations should combine effective scenario planning with customer experience (CX) transformations to build resilience against possible future volatility while standing out from the competition. Find out how CCaaS solutions are forging a new path for customer service in utilities.
The way utilities are being delivered has been changing since the government-mandated smart meter rollout began in 2011. Since then, the evolution of the sector has been allowed to unfold over the long term. And then Covid-19 happened.
The digital migration of services is racing ahead, and utility sector organisations are increasingly looking to Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Internet of Things (IoT) devices to predictively maintain, monitor and repair the various systems they use, with a rising emphasis on omnichannel customer experience.
As McKinsey states, “When the crisis hit, utilities had to change how they typically interacted with their customers. With payment offices closed and customers staying at home, digital channels became much more important. There is a general trend of customers moving online, with some online activities growing more than 40%.”
This encapsulates the acceleration of customer service trends over the last 12 months. Digital is more important than ever, and utilities must now work out how to weave the technology underpinning digital services – intelligent automation – into the very fabric of their engagement strategies to provide a holistic, omnichannel customer experience.
These trends have created an ideal environment for cloud-based Contact Centre as a Service (CCaaS) solutions to flourish, offering transformation directors the chance to rapidly deploy key new technologies that leverage analytical tools to transform how customer service is delivered.
Of course, contact centres are at the heart of any organisation’s customer service effort and, with the amount of data generated in modern contact centres, can play a huge role in overall business strategy.
Developing an omnichannel customer experience by embedding intelligent automation into the contact centre is a must for utilities going forward. The importance of accuracy and seamless service delivery for the utility sector must be represented and delivered, in great part, by its contact centre operations.
To enable this, the utility sector needs to develop an omnichannel customer experience strategy that offers seamless support access to customers and empowers agents to do more with less. Automation, of course, is key to this approach. In addition to improving response times and accuracy, self-service bots can facilitate easier collection and analysis of customer data, which business leaders can use to further refine customer engagement strategies and develop new, more relevant services.
According to Statista, 54% of customers have daily AI-enabled interactions with organisations, including using technologies such as chatbots and digital assistants, while Gartner estimates that chatbots will be one of the biggest emerging CX technologies in the next three years, second only to AI.
While most utilities in the UK are now private enterprises, they still provide a vital public service and, as such, are run in a similar way to public sector organisations. This brings with it various imperatives, such as the need to minimise downtime and provide outstanding levels of fair customer service.
Various examples from the public and private sectors provide evidence that targeting the above areas can provide a great return on investment (ROI), justifying the initial spend required to implement utility automation, which will be a key priority for CFOs and businesses in general over the coming years.
However, given the need for uninterrupted service, the utility sector can often find it hard to integrate automation without impacting the function and effectiveness of existing systems. Similarly, AI-driven tools like intelligent automation have, up to now, been seen primarily as the concern of IT personnel, which can lead to automation projects languishing in siloed departments, never quite realising their true potential to the business.
Managing and scaling customer communication has always been difficult, not least for energy and utility companies. But expectations of contact centres have risen significantly in the last year. Studies show 60% of consumers value the ability to solve issues quickly as the single most important aspect of good customer service. Add to that the expectation for seamless, omnichannel customer experience, and there is an obligation on businesses to up their game when it comes to scalable customer service, and utility automation is the way forward.
These expectations, and the rise of remote and hybrid workforces, create a market ideally suited for CCaaS solutions. CCaaS providers can empower integrated, customer-facing channel hubs and sophisticated, analytical agents to operate them. Additionally, they offer the kind of intelligent technology needed to bring automation into operations in a seamless and ultimately profitable manner, as well as communications platforms that include internal peer-to-peer engagement systems, facilitating collaboration between geographically dispersed colleagues.
With all of this in mind, energy sector managers looking to implement automation should look to CCaaS as a way of developing the all-important omnichannel customer experience. More and more businesses from different industry segments are doing so, leading to a rise in the adoption of CCaaS solutions, accelerating a trend that saw Gartner predicting that by 2022 CCaaS will account for roughly 50% of preferred adoption models in contact centres.
The automation benefits already listed – improved customer and agent experiences, higher returns on investments, increased accuracy of informational output being just a few – won’t be revelatory to many business leaders. Indeed, according to KPMG research, 40% of companies were actively investigating automation, self-service, machine learning (ML) and AI before the pandemic. Since February early indications show that that number has increased to over 55 per cent.
The trend is increasing, and what these numbers show is that organisations that fail to “read the room” with regard to customer service automation risk falling behind their competitors. CCaaS providers, with flexible, scalable cloud-based platforms could provide the optimal solution for utility providers looking to rapidly deploy automation without disrupting existing services.
The time is ripe for the utility sector to invest in developing a more sophisticated form of customer service: one that makes access to information easy and facilitates omnichannel customer experiences, thereby driving value for businesses and consumers alike, and building on the already strong reputation of the sector in the key satisfaction drivers of reliability and ease of contact.
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