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Customer Service Adaption is Needed to Improve Responsiveness During Industry Disruption

Dec. 1, 2022
Whether it’s rising costs, enforced switching of providers, or power outages, energy companies must be able to pinpoint the events which are most likely to cause a surge in customer interactions.

The global energy industry is in a period of uncertainty that most consumers and suppliers have

never experienced. As a result, U.S. households could incur some of the largest bills seen in years – all while the sector struggles with power outages and energy shortages.

This has all led to a “perfect storm” of customer service challenges when many consumers need a huge amount of assistance from their energy providers. This is pushing utilities to their breaking point and causing customer frustration. Increasing labor costs, hiring and retention challenges, and a dispersed workforce are hindering many organizations’ ability to handle the increasing volume of customer interactions across an expanding number of engagement channels. Between January and March of this year, average call waiting times rose by 75% year-on-year with one supplier’s customers waiting, on average, 16 minutes to speak to a customer service agent.

Current engagement strategies must adapt to ensure utilities can respond to customer needs. According to Verint’s new Guide to Digital-First Engagement in the Energy Industry, artificial intelligence (AI), automation, and digital-first engagement can significantly aid both utility companies and customers by handling conversations at scale while easing the burden on busy contact centers, and helping agents respond with empathy and via the customer’s channel of choice.

For these customer care strategies to succeed, utilities must be proactive and plan in advance to address scenarios ranging from emergency response to planned power outages to business-as-usual “how do I pay my bill?” interactions.

With rising energy costs also comes the potential for unhappy customers in the call center — highly charged customer interactions that are growing at a record pace. Agents must interact and respond with empathy to help the customer feel cared for and supported.

With a huge influx of calls, agents can leverage digital-first technology which can help them to gather key information — such as nature of the financial difficulties, recent changes in circumstances, bill pay habits, etc., ahead of triaging to an employee — which can streamline resolution.

Research in this can help utilities understand trends. As conversational volume spiked in March 2022 for Verint’s energy customers, more than 50% of those conversations comprised the following common intents or drivers for customer interactions:

  • Billing: Asking for a copy of the bill
  • Accounts/login: Issues logging in
  • Meter/router: Submitting meter readings

These are all important conversations for a consumer, but ones that can be driven towards a resolution contained and resolved within a bot interaction. Whether that’s requesting the relevant details and allowing customers to self-serve or deflecting to FAQs or a community forum, automating these interactions drives more efficiencies and creates effortless experiences at lower cost-to-serve.

For “business as usual” conversations, utility companies should consider bot interaction or self-service channels to create effortless experiences at a lower cost-to-serve. And, while bots and automation need to be at the heart of any energy company’s efforts to improve the experience for customers and companies, these solutions must work within an omnichannel approach.

To help address these challenges, it’s vital to:

  • Forecast and schedule intelligently:

Enable organizations to schedule and deploy a combination of employees and automation to respond quickly to changes in demand.

  • Engage the workforce seamlessly across channels:

Make sure channel silos are not created between teams. Every agent needs the agility to work on any channel in order to take advantage of the extra capacity provided by automation.

  • Make every agent an expert:

Provide consistent contextual knowledge for every human or bot interaction to improve response time during a quickly changing situation.

Whether it’s rising bills, enforced switching of providers or power outages, energy companies must be proactive in their plan for coverage when the volume customer interactions surges. Pre-planned engagement strategies using the power and scale of private messaging as an engagement channel can help minimize disruption to customers and avoid the frustration of long wait times or unanswered queries, providing a route to resolution expedited by automation and/or agents.

A blend of automation and humans is vital for energy companies to develop a customer-obsessed engagement strategy predicated on a channel-less mentality and a One Workforce approach to orchestrate the entire customer engagement workforce — both humans and bots — across the contact center, back office and branch.

The issues facing the energy industry aren’t going away any time soon. Whether it’s rising costs, enforced switching of providers, or power outages, energy companies must be able to pinpoint the events which are most likely to cause a surge in customer interactions — especially as it will often be when their customers are most in need of help.

Omnichannel strategies that lean into the power of digital channels and use intelligent automation to manage increased customer interactions are critical to help companies navigate these volatile times.

Heather Richards is vice president, GTM strategy, digital first engagement at Verint, the Customer Engagement Company. Verint helps the world’s most iconic brands — including over 85 of the Fortune 100 companies — build enduring customer relationships by connecting work, data and experiences across the enterprise.

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