Preparing utility companies for the CX challenges ahead
For most of us, the notion of ‘precedented’ times seems almost mythical. Following the global pandemic that irrefutably changed how we work, new challenges are now on the horizon, from mounting housing and rental prices to rising energy costs. Indeed, a recent report from Ofgem found energy providers across the board are failing vulnerable customers, with suppliers not reading the meters of customers who cannot do so themselves, and setting debt repayments so high that customers are unable to top-up their pre-payment meters. The list of suppliers falling short include household names like British Gas, EDF and Scottish Power, who are responsible for heating the homes for huge swathes of the population. It is fair to say that as we move into winter and head into a cost-of-living crisis, we are all feeling the pressure.
This comes hot on the heels on the latest consumer regulations from the FCA which mandate how regulated organisations must deliver fair value and support to their customers. The Consumer Duty regulations require organisations to not only prove good customer service – including to customers with ‘characteristics of vulnerability’ – but also demonstrate how it is measured. The FCA’s hope is that these new requirements will help to quickly identify and mitigate practises that do not deliver the service customers need before they become entrenched and negatively affect customers. The impact of these new rules could be huge, especially for organisations who are already struggling to deliver. According to the Citizens Advice Bureau, for example, utilities companies are reporting average call waiting times doubling to 400 seconds, email response times dropping in speed by 4% and a staggering 63% increase in complaints for energy companies. With customer service teams and Contact Centre agents often the first port-of-call for worried and vulnerable customers, utilities companies need to adapt to be able to provide a sensitive but efficient customer experience (CX).
So where can utility companies begin? For many contact centres, a vital part of the solution is technology, empowering agents with appropriate tools so that they are better placed to field a range of calls.
The value of automation
Automation and AI solutions have existed for years, but too few Contact Centres are utilising them to maximum value. Automation solutions include voicebots and chatbots which, when used efficiently, divert traffic away from the Contact Centre by resolving routine customer questions through AI, rather than escalating issues to agents. Self-service automation keeps customers in control of their own journey and bots are accessible 24/7, meaning that whatever the question, whenever it arises, it can be answered or escalated appropriately, relieving significant stress for customers and ensuring that agents deal only with the more complex enquiries.
Automated technologies such as ID&V tools (Identity & Verification) can also streamline the security process, automatically capturing personal details without requiring direct agent interaction. As such, automation accelerates call handling and time to resolution, simplifying the process for customer and agent alike.
Gathering insight to improve CX
Additionally, a range of analytics tools can provide insight into customer interactions across channels to uncover areas for improvement. For example, by using interaction analytics, Contact Centres can see what worked well and how to better cater to vulnerable customers. These improvements could be as simple as changing how conversations flow, to the actual content of the conversation. Such small details, once tailored to customers can have a great impact on the overall customer experience.
Automated speech and text analytics can also be used for training purposes to ensure agents are prepared for any eventuality. By sharing customer feedback, highlighting best practice, and training agents on how to appropriately deal with vulnerable customers, agents are provided with the skills they need to be able to handle any difficult conversations with empathy.
Supporting agents through the pinch
It is important to remember that agents are also utilities customers who may be feeling the pinch of the increased cost-of-living. But there are solutions to ease the process.
Workforce Management (WFM) aids Contact Centres’ resource planning, forecasting and scheduling, the latter being essential for peak periods, such as winter. Aside from being a valuable tool for Contact Centre managers, WFM empowers agents to take control of their schedule in a way suited to them. Amidst the backdrop of rising energy prices, some employees may prefer to come into the office to avoid heating their houses, while others prefer to work at home to arrange their schedule to fit their needs.
Tools like gamification can also be used to lighten the working day for agents, especially when external pressures are feeling insurmountable. The central principle of gamification is to motivate agents – or ‘players’ – to meet or exceed company or personal goals. This doesn’t have to be anything too business critical, but offering small rewards such as bonuses, or supermarket vouchers for meeting those goals is a sure-fire way to prevent worker disconnect and combat low productivity. In this way, gamification excels against using just KPIs in isolation. As while KPIs and management tools can track performance against productivity and quality metrics, gamification practices transform the process into something more engaging through personal milestones and friendly competition.
Readying for the future
Uncertainty is a certainty, and with the recent Ofgem report highlighting how tough times truly are and the budget providing little hope for customers, it is advisable that essential sectors, such as utilities, bolster operations to focus on the customer experience. To ensure utilities are meeting the latest FCA regulations, even small steps in the right direction will have a marked improvement on customer service. Whether it is streamlining the customer journey by introducing new channels or self-service, or training agents on how to deal appropriately with vulnerable customers, Contact Centres have a vital role to play in ensuring that customers are not left out in the cold when it comes to customer service.
To find out how IPI can help your utilities Contact Centre, visit our dedicated Utilities page, and download our whitepaper ‘The role of a Contact Centre in the cost-of-living crisis: Preparing utilities service providers for new CX challenges’