Utility Week

UTILITY Week 10th October 2014

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UtILItY WeeK | 10th - 16th OctOber 2014 | 27 Customers Market view C ustomer satisfaction is a relatively new challenge for the utilities industry, with increased competition and heightened customer expectations creating unprece- dented benchmarks in a short space of time. The water sector has led the way in responding to this new paradigm. The indus- try received an average service incentive mechanism score of 4.44 out of 5 from Ofwat in 2012/13. However, this does not mean the job is done: the utilities industry as a whole needs to be more proactive and strategic in embrac- ing technologies. Companies must take a big picture view of how different technologies integrate and fully understand the role they can play in improving customer service. Technology-enabled, intensive customer care is the key. Customer expectations are changing quickly, with smart devices and the "internet of things" incorporating smart meters, meaning they expect greater flexibil- ity and speed when it comes to interacting with suppliers. If they do not receive that, they will move to another supplier who will provide it. This is prevalent in the energy industry, but water and sewerage will also take a hit in the pocket as consumers get a greater choice of supplier. The priority for any customer service department has to be to find a way of deal- ing with customers in the least amount of interactions possible. Customers do not want to waste time repeatedly making contact and reiterating their grievances to resolve their issues. The quicker and simpler the exchange, the happier the customer will be. Outside utilities, other sectors have shown how technology can deliver this – and introduce new ground for competition. Look at banking: it's arguable that retail banking – including credit cards and similar products – is at the forefront of the modern customer experience. Banking has similar competition issues to those in the utilities industry. Pricing is negligible so customer service is essential in that mix of securing a new customer – or retaining a loyal one. Forward-thinking banks have effectively harnessed the power of technology to make sure customers are receiving the best service possible – a service that exceeds expecta- tions at no extra cost to the business. Through analytics and omni-channel communications, they have managed to reduce customer churn, improve the quality of service that they provide and make sure agents are running as efficiently as possible, thereby improving the customer experience and saving both time and money. This day-to-day interaction has reaped rewards. A Money Saving Expert survey reveals that 92 per cent of First Direct's cus- tomers rate its service as great, with San- tander and Smile at 72 per cent. How does technology make this possible? An example is being able to collect and ana- lyse different types of data on a customer – from previous contact to buying habits – in one place, even if you have interacted with them through multiple disparate channels. This enables an agent to gain a more com- plete view of a customer's needs and wants. For instance, if they are talking to a cus- tomer and are already aware of their previ- ous issues, how they have been dealt with in the past and how they found the experience of dealing with your organisation, it enables the agent to deal with that customer not just quickly, but more personally. This will make the customer feel that they are the compa- ny's number one priority, keeping them sat- isfied and retaining their loyalty. Offering customers an omni-channel experience delivers quick and simple reso- lutions for their queries without disrupting their day. If a customer is out and has a query or a problem, they can Tweet, text, call or go online to contact their provider. Then, if they want to continue the conversation later and on a different platform, they can do it with- out having to start from scratch because all the data is stored. Increasingly, providers are enabling automated self-service via interactive voice response mechanisms, as well as more mod- ern channels such as social media and text. The link between self-service and more com- plex queries escalated to a live person must be seamless if irritation is to be avoided. This can be supported by allowing customers to request callbacks and ensuring the agent is fully informed about the customer before they make that call. This is not uncharted territory for all util- ity companies. There are some that have suc- cessfully integrated new technologies into customer contact centres to drive a proactive engagement strategy. Water and sewerage company Northum- brian Water was looking to increase the vol- ume of customers it interacted with to receive more feedback on its service and gain a broader, more detailed idea of where it could improve. To do this, it invested in technol- ogy to automate the gathering of information via detailed customer satisfaction surveys on a day-to-day basis. With automated sur- veys pushed to customers via their preferred channels, Northumbrian Water was able to operate with a broader and wider response rate, interacting with more than 20 per cent of its customers and receiving some 20,000 responses. This greatly benefited the company's cus- tomer service levels, boosting it by 16 points to 4.63 in Ofwat's Consumer Experience Survey, which is part of the service incen- tive mechanism. This upli made it the joint second highest scoring water and sewerage company in the UK. The lesson to be learnt is that there is no longer anywhere to hide for the utilities industry when it comes to offering top cus- tomer service. All the technology is in place to help companies offer a quick, helpful and efficient experience to their customers, which will not only benefit the customer, but will also improve the business. Customer expectations will only increase as new technologies and developments become available. Because of this, the utili- ties industry needs to be at the forefront of change, adapting and growing with cus- tomer demands. Once this is achieved, you can be sure there will be the permanent upli needed in contact centre performance to make the utilities industry one of the best. David McGovern, customer experience consultant, Aspect Soware Technology raises the stakes Consumer technologies are provoking higher customer service expectations. But business technologies are ready to answer the challenge if utilities will only embrace them, says David McGovern.

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