The utility industry provides essential services to customers (from electricity to water, from gas to waste management). For this reason, it has always played a strategic role in the lives of communities and individuals. It’s an industry that deals directly with people’s basic needs, and in today’s hyper-connected world, being able to offer effective solutions while maintaining profitability requires companies to adopt an increasingly consumer- and consumer-centric approach. Companies operating in this market have long since embraced digital transformation, especially for customer service tools and procedures, with the goal of streamlining and speeding up their activities. In this still ongoing change, automation has played a key role, especially in streamlining business responses, including call deflection, and in the automatic generation of invoices and contracts.
As utilities expand and adapt to changing user expectations, their customer care departments face a myriad of challenges. In this post, we will explore the obstacles that, if not addressed promptly and decisively, can depower customer care and slow the growth of the entire organization.
Customer care in utilities: what are the obstacles to overcome?
The first element to take into account when talking about customer care in utilities is the close relationship between the great variety and diversity of needs that must be taken care of and the need to interact with customers. The greater the demand for quality service, the more it will be necessary for companies to improve their communication methods. Interaction between organizations and people is thus the playing field where the success of utilities’ customer care strategies is played out. Let’s take a closer look.
1. Staying up to date with technological progress
One of the main challenges for customer care in utilities is to stay up to date with technological advances that continue to reshape the industry. While the benefits achieved on the corporate side are undoubtedly considerable from an operational point of view (improving core activities of power generation and distribution, waste disposal, water management, and so on), digitization has radically transformed interactions with customers, who now expect to get instant responses through various channels (websites, chatbots, social media, email, live chat, and mobile apps just to name a few). To overcome this challenge, utilities must invest in tools that can simplify these interactions, automate routine tasks, and provide valuable information about customer preferences and problems.
- Choose the most effective tools. Today, robust customer relationship management (CRM) and company-generated content management (CMS) systems enable you to leverage the data collected on different touch points to facilitate targeted upselling and cross-selling opportunities and maximize service value for the end user. Products for the dematerialization of document processes ensure compliance with Italian and European regulations, reduce the economic impact related to document and fiscal management, and ensure digital, correct, attentive, and complete communication. Increasingly, utilities are employing digital tools and channels that enable advanced forms of personalization and self-service that both create new opportunities for engagement and increase customer empowerment, helping to decrease the volume of calls to customer call centers. The creation and targeted distribution of interactive content, such as personalized videos or dynamic mini-sites, enables bill management and payment, autonomous updating of the customer profile, the resolution of interruptions, alternative scheduling, and in-depth study of the topics of interest. Finally, Customer Communications Management software, which is dedicated to document process management, supports the creation, multichannel distribution (online and offline), and archiving of documents, even paginated documents, starting from the processing and enrichment of complex data to the administration of the most articulated workflows.
- Operate in omnichannel communication modes. Utilities cater to a diverse and differentiated demographic. Here, the challenge for customer care teams is to understand and meet even very diverse needs. Implementing tools that support a multichannel approach to customer care, from traditional phone calls to digital channels, makes it possible to reach the end-user with the most meaningful content, on the right channels, at the right time.
- Ensure regulatory compliance and data security. Utilities are subject to various regulations to protect customer data and ensure fair practices. Customer care departments are called upon to fully comply with regulations while handling customer information and maintaining data security. Implementing robust data protection measures, conducting regular audits, and continuously training operators are essential to minimize potential risks. Building customer trust by demonstrating a commitment to safeguarding their data is critical to ensuring the company’s continued growth.
In general, the integration of advanced technologies into the company’s infrastructure has enabled the implementation of initiatives aimed at increasing customer satisfaction and engagement and nurturing long-term loyalty processes.
2. Living up to customer expectations
To respond to new market needs and to interact with the individual customer as effectively as possible, companies must consider him or her an active player who is directly involved in the company’s own actions and communications. Customers increasingly expect personalized experiences, quick problem solving, and easy access to information. Meeting these expectations requires an agile and versatile approach to customer care: utilities must focus on personalized communications, proactive problem resolution, and self-service options. Implementing as broad and detailed a knowledge base as possible enables companies to enhance applications and capabilities that allow customers to easily find solutions to common problems on their own, reducing contact-center workload, with an immediate increase in perceived service quality.
- Improved customer understanding. The most effective customer service functions in the Utility sector are those that, through the proper analysis of the available data (on billing, usage, interactions with customer care departments or technical departments, etc.), provide a better understanding of customer needs, behaviors, and desires. No organization can properly take care of its customers without first understanding their critical issues and real needs. In addition, using data allows the company to more accurately segment users: utilities use the knowledge gained about different segments to inform their decisions.
- Personalized recommendations and solutions. Based on increased insight gained from advanced data analytics, utilities are able to proactively engage customers and can invite them to collaborate to develop a more participatory and therefore compelling ad hoc proposal that includes the products and services that can most realistically increase the value of the customer experience. Through shrewd use of qualified data, companies are also able to more accurately predict which customers are likely to pay their bills late and those who will not pay their bills at all. They can send personalized reminders to these “at-risk customers” without coming across as pushy or threatening, and perhaps recommend enrollment in dedicated programs that are designed to increase their financial awareness.
With the most appropriate solutions and tailored information content (videos, blog posts, infographics, mini-sites, podcasts, etc.) deployed at the right time on the right channel, companies can lay the foundation for establishing deeper relationships with users while improving operational activities (such as reducing call volume, phasing out expired accounts, etc.).
3. Energy transition and sustainability issues
We are in the midst of an energy transition: the danger of being misunderstood is always around the corner, and utilities cannot allow their reputations, which have been painstakingly built over time, to be ruined by a few clumsy miscommunications. That is why customer care departments must not miss the opportunity to communicate their commitment to cleaner technologies and the promotion of energy conservation to customers . They can also educate customers on best practices for more sustainable consumption, offer renewable energy options, and address any concerns about cost and reliability. Emphasizing transparency and offering in-depth and authoritative content is key to maintaining user trust and loyalty.
Digitization is not just about infrastructure: in the utility sector, digital transformation directly impacts the way the energy transition is experienced by users. With the latest technologies, from the use of digital channels for customer contact and support to the provision of integrated digital services (e.g., with home automation), today’s utilities can:
- upgrade facilities and infrastructure remotely
- collect and analyze massive amounts of data
- integrate the information obtained into cloud-based control and management systems
- enhance cybersecurity
- rethink the customer experience
Investing in digitization can really make a difference in customer service delivery and the relationship with end users. As we wrote in a previous post about how to achieve an exceptional energy customer experience, utility company leaders are now able to gain a competitive advantage by investing in optimizing the consumer journey. For example, consider how, in the case of outages, customer satisfaction is a result of the quality of customer service as much as from the resolution of the problem. The timeliness in providing clear and complete information and the ease of access to the personal account matter as much as the speed of physical intervention for failures and malfunctions.
The challenges (already met) of customer care in utilities
As we have said many times, digitalization has revolutionized the Utilities sector’s approach to customer care. While some challenges still remain (and provide important stimuli for continued innovation) some goals have been achieved.
Call deviation: streamlining customer interactions
In the past, customer care teams were often overwhelmed by calls, resulting in long wait times and lower customer satisfaction. Today, customers are increasingly being directed to self-service options or online resources. Artificial intelligence-driven chatbots, interactive voice response (IVR) systems, and dynamic content designed to answer FAQs and recurring concerns quickly provide the information needed, so there is less need to talk to a human operator. As a result, efficiency is increased, and operational costs are reduced.
Efficiency of the customer retention process: personalization and proactive solutions
Digital transformation has enabled utility companies to collect large amounts of data on their customers’ preferences and behaviors. By leveraging this data through advanced analytics and artificial intelligence applications, companies can now personalize their offers and communications, leading to more effective retention strategies. By understanding individual needs and providing proactive solutions, such as personalized energy-saving suggestions or tailored service packages, utilities can foster greater customer loyalty and reduce churn rates.
Customer satisfaction and engagement: omnichannel experience
One of the most significant benefits of digital transformation is the creation of an omnichannel customer experience. Utilities interact with their customers through various digital touch points, including mobile apps, websites, social media, and email. This level of connectivity enables smooth interactions and rapid problem resolution. In addition, by using the data collected across channels (every interaction leaves a digital trail), companies can develop tailored content, anticipate customer needs, and provide relevant offers and services.
Automation: simplifying business responses
Before the introduction of advanced forms of automation, the generation of invoices, contract management, and payment processing were done manually. Here, certain tasks, which were often repetitive, could be delayed or marred by errors. With the implementation of automated systems, these processes can now be performed efficiently and accurately. Customers receive automated billing notifications and are able to set up automatic payments and access their contracts online, conveniently and with greater transparency.
Enhancing customer self-service
Digital transformation has enabled customers to monitor and exercise greater control over their utilities. Through online portals and mobile apps, customers can view and manage their accounts, track energy consumption, report problems with their service, proceed independently along the onboarding path, and perform payment and billing tasks remotely. This self-service approach reduces the workload on customer care teams and also allows customers to access information and technical support whenever they need it, regardless of business hours. As a result, the overall perception of their experience is positively enhanced.
Digital transformation has caused a profound change in the Utilities sector, particularly in customer care. A smoother experience, realized in part by the increasing availability of self-service options, is paving the way for even more efficient and customer-centric services. By leveraging advanced technologies, such as artificial intelligence, data analytics, automation, and the cloud, utilities have integrated interactive and personalized formats into their customer care processes, greatly improving call deviations, retention processes, customer satisfaction, and engagement. The challenges we have discussed are not just simple impediments to be neutralized as soon as possible—they can also represent many opportunities for technological development and economic growth. Doxee technology can harness customer data and transform customer care interactions into new opportunities for utility companies.