Utilities Sector CX: How to Go from Doldrums to Delightful

When it comes to CX, the utilities sector has the dubious distinction of being near the bottom of the barrel, according to a raft of research studies conducted over many years. For instance, it has been ranked as the second lowest performing sector for 5 years in a row in the Forrester CX Index benchmarking reports. Moreover, it has dropped two years in a row in J.D. Power’s Utilities Customer Satisfaction Study. So, what should utility companies do to improve customer service and CX? Here are some answers:

1. Digitalize the service 

Accelerated by millennial and Gen Z lifestyles and preferences and the pandemic lockdowns, consumers have doubled down on digital, with 80% saying that they had increased the use of digital channels during the pandemic and 90% of digital novices saying they will remain digital, according to research surveys conducted by the likes of McKinsey and others.

Moreover, today’s digital citizens want to go beyond simply checking their bills or outages to accomplishing more complex tasks such as digital form-filling and online troubleshooting. Where they are not able to self-serve, they are looking for answers through human-assisted digital channels such as live chat and messaging apps, where they often “live.” This would require utility companies to go beyond the basics to provide service through touchpoints like next-gen chatbots, messaging, live chat, cobrowsing, in-app service, and proactive notifications. Moreover, with knowledge and AI-guided conversations in the contact center, utilities can reduce the need for unwarranted “truck rolls” or field service visits, which put a big dent in operating performance.

2. “Hub” the conversations 

While self-service is getting increasingly smarter and more effective, there are still queries from digital-first citizens that require human assistance over digital channels like messaging and chat and, if all else fails, over the phone or in person. If customer conversations are not all “hubbed” or unified into a single desktop, customer service agents will not have complete context. They then wind up asking the consumer to repeat information, a big no-no for good CX. 

3. “Hub” the knowledge

The biggest deterrent to good CX across industries is getting inconsistent answers through different interaction channels and a lack of knowledge among customer service reps, according to a Forrester survey of 5,000+ consumers, sponsored by eGain. This is not surprising—as self-service automated the processing of routine customer queries, agents started getting mainly complex queries that they were not equipped to handle.

To add to the challenge, over 80% of utilities contact center agents do not have conversational guidance tools to handhold them during customer conversations and they were getting different answers from disparate knowledge silos in the enterprise. The solution? An omnichannel knowledge hub with content management, conversational AI, generative AI, and analytics, all unified and orchestrated in one place. This approach will ensure that the knowledge—content, know-how, and insights—is correct, consumable, compliant, and consistent. 

4. Select the right solution partner

Technology matters as the world goes digital and AI. So do best practices and domain expertise. Make sure you pick a partner whose technology is proven and who has succeeded at scale in the utility sector. Does the vendor provide end-to-end services, including training/education, implementation, and managed services? Do they have a formalized customer success program? Do they offer risk-free production pilots—not just a toy sandbox—to try out their solution with expert guidance, all free of charge in the pilot phase. Vendors’ willingness to put real skin in the game shows their commitment to your success and confidence in their own solution. 

Client success stories  

  • Fortune 500 utility client serves consumers across six states in the US. Having to handle a broad range of customer queries across website authentication, troubleshooting, billing, Covid-19 issues, and others, its contact center agents were struggling to find answers to customer questions in their CRM system and SharePoint. With NLP search, AI guidance, and personalization capabilities, integrated with their SAP CRM and SharePoint systems, agents are now able to find fast, accurate answers 90% of the time! Managers also report great author, admin, and operational experiences beyond agent experience.
  • Major UK utility, serving over a million households, aimed to slash agent training costs and reduce unwarranted engineer callouts with more effective problem resolution from their contact centers. With search and AI guidance capabilities, the utility was able to slash agent training time by 50% and engineer callouts by 25%, while improving First-Contact Resolution (FCR) by 60%, all within the first nine months of deployment.

Final word 

Prioritizing digitalization, unifying conversations and knowledge with omnichannel hubs, and working with a proven solution provider will enable utilities CX to go from doldrums to delightful! 

Anand Subramaniam is SVP Global Marketing for eGain. Prior to eGain, Subrama­niam served in executive and marketing management roles in SaaS startups and companies such as Oracle, Autodesk, and Intel. He holds an MBA from the University of California at Berkeley and an MSME from the University of Rhode Island.