Customer Service for Utilities Is All About Context

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Customer Service for Utilities

To keep customers safe and informed, utility companies need to provide easy-to-use omnichannel communications for scheduling service visits, paying bills, finding answers to frequently asked questions, and inquiring about outages and emergencies. Especially during times of crisis, it’s critical that utilities offer a consistent omnichannel experience over voice, SMS, mobile, chat, email, video, and social channels.

In any industry, being a great provider hinges on knowing what consumers expect on each and every channel. It starts by supporting the channels that consumers choose, in the context they want. Here, we’ve outlined some ways for utility companies to put the customer first on every channel.

Keep Your Website Current and Provide Seamless Access to Live Agents

During emergencies, customers are communicating with people and accessing info in a variety of ways. Most will access your company’s website on a mobile phone’s tiny browser window. Furthermore, on a cell phone, they don’t have the time or patience to click through multiple pages to get updates on their burning neighborhood or the city-wide blackout.

Place critical information at the top of your company’s homepage, being sure to include:

  • Updates for all current, active emergencies, with a notice of how often the news is updated (e.g., every 15 minutes)
  • Links to customer support, using “click-to-call” and “click-to-chat” buttons for quick connection to agents
  • Easy forms for customers to provide updated contact info and sign up for alerts
  • Language selectors so customers can get everything they need in their primary language
  • Links to maps to report emergencies or find out if your area is affected by dangerous conditions

Expect that customers browsing your website will get lost while looking for information. Pop proactive chats and ask visitors, “Do you need help?” to reduce their level of frustration.

Bot-enabled chats can provide self-service to customers via chat in order to either share information about emergencies or billing, for example, or to collect data about the customer (e.g., their location, the reason for chatting, etc.).

Sometimes it is more effective to talk to someone face to face or show them what is happening. Web chats can incorporate video and phone links, so customers can chat, talk, and see their agent all at the same time.

Personalize the Voice Experience

Imagine your cell phone is at 10% battery life and you’re calling Gas & Electric Company XYZ again to get an update on your neighborhood—is the fire contained? Will power be restored? When is it safe to go back? With such pressing questions, you need info now.

Utilities should anticipate your needs with a smart IVR that, right away, either directs you to a pre-recorded message including status on critical emergencies in your area, or connects you to a live agent. This can be achieved with simple prompts (e.g., “If you are calling about the Carr Fire, press 1. If you want to talk to a representative, press 2.”). Make it easy for customers to talk to someone, and don’t direct them to a different channel for help—for customers calling on the phone, don’t direct them to the website for more information.

Omnichannel call centers can also utilize the listening capabilities of AI and bots in their IVRs; customers should be able to say what kind of help they need, and the bot should listen and route the customers to the correct department or skilled agent accordingly.

Proactively Inform Customers with SMS/Text

Most people don’t want to keep checking a website for alerts. Wouldn’t it be easier for them to get those alerts automatically on their phones? People just want to know when the power’s back or when to expect maintenance to be done. Utilities can use campaigns to send automated text messages to all customers, addressing scheduled maintenance times, power outages, downed power lines, water/gas shutoff, wildfire containment, and so forth. For planned service times, these messages can be scheduled to be sent in advance to affected customers.

When customers reply to the message, they can be routed to agents for more information or to self-service menus—all on their phones. The message can be short and simple (e.g., “A brownout is scheduled for tomorrow between 8:00 am and 12:00 pm. Reply “Q” for questions.”).

Leverage Email/Ongoing Communication to Provide Tailored Recommendations

Important messages about billing, scheduled maintenance, emergency procedures, and more should be emailed to every customer on record. In email, you can provide more detailed information than is appropriate for a text message, but the format still has to put critical info front and center.

Few customers will know their account numbers by heart. You can make their lives a lot easier by hot linking their account IDs in the email to the website login page or to the in-app sign-in/touch ID, enabling them to use self-service faster and easier.

Using email, you can also remind customers to keep their contact information current, ensuring that you have correct email addresses and phone numbers for sending automated messages and alerts.

Be Where Your Customers Are, on Social

Imagine there’s no phone service, none of your neighbors have a landline, but there’s still Wi-Fi...somewhere. What would most people do in such a situation? Head to social media, of course. Customers want to know what’s happening in the context of their friends and social circles online. Your company’s Facebook page, Twitter, and so forth should be a part of that circle, providing all the same alerts and updates as the website, pushing updates and alerts directly to your followers’ feeds.

Not only does this keep customers in the loop, it allows them to share stories with other people. Customers will check social networks when there are issues with phone signal, landlines, computers, and all of the above. Companies need to have a social presence in a consistent manner while offering seamless access to customer service representatives.

Utility companies with integrated social messenger accounts can have agents talk to customers in real-time via Facebook Messenger, LINE, Viber, Telegram, and more. People are automatically identified by the service, so agents know customers’ names and location without having to do manual data lookups.

Multichannel Is No Longer Enough

Utility companies provide essential services to people every day, so it goes without saying that their customer service and communications need to be nimble, efficient, and consistent across all channels. Using omnichannel cloud contact center software can help, but more importantly, omnichannel needs to be done right, in the context that customers expect.

For more information on how utilities can make it easy for customers to access information, use self-service, and talk to knowledgeable agents, see Contact Center Software for Utility Companies.

Darren Prine

About Darren Prine

As a Senior Sales Executive with Bright Pattern, I help contact centers improve their customer engagement, customer experience and agent utilization. Contact centers leverage our technology to allow customers to connect via virtually any media channel, device or application. Not only that but but customers/agents can move from one channel to another such as voice to SMS or from chat to voice.

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