Supported by InstantService, Inc., Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E) is increasing customer satisfaction and deflecting inbound calls by offering live chat to its online account customers. The California utility's move to add the new contact channel also breaks new ground in an industry experiencing tougher demands on service. Adding to this momentum, a recent report by research and advisory firm E Source documented the value of chat to utility companies as rising numbers of customers come online for assistance.
Building on its successful deployment with the InstantService chat solution in 2005, PG&E uses the Web-based communication tool to service its online account customers, answering questions about billing, account information, and other service issues.
"Use of our chat channel has more than tripled since it was debuted, which proves to us that customers like the convenience, and the high scores on our satisfaction surveys prove they're happy with their chat experience," said Mike Chase, director, Web Channel at PG&E.
The company tracks customer satisfaction with the solution's integrated and customizable exit survey. Tracking between January-May 2007 showed strong results. Using a survey scale of 1-5 (1 for strongly disagree and 5 for strongly agree), customers responded as follows:
- "strongly agree" that the chat feature was easy to use (average score: 4.8)
- "strongly agree" that the PG&E agent provided responsive and timely service (average score: 4.7)
- "agree" that the chat session allowed them to resolve their issue without further contacting the utility (average score: 4.3)
- "strongly agree" that they will use the chat feature in the future to correspond with PG&E (average score: 4.6)
"The driver for offering chat was, and still is, to help improve online customer service," added Chase. "With over a million customers online, it is imperative that we offer a highly scalable, easy-to-use self-service communication channel to help resolve issues, without increasing our inbound phone volume.".
Chat's potential for improving customer service, converting Web visitors to self-service customers, increasing productivity and cost-savings are just a few areas examined by E Source in its April 2007 report entitled "How May I Help You?" Chat Brings the Service into Online Customer Service.
"We definitely see the potential for utilities and their customers to benefit more from the Web and innovative tools like chat," said Andrew Heath, director, Customer Satisfaction Services at E Source. "PG&E is not only taking steps in the right direction, but appears to be ahead of the pack," he added. "We predict many other utilities will be doing the same in the near future."