Technology has been driving the way we do business across all industries for decades, but in the last few years particularly, it seems to be accelerating dramatically with innovations and changes happening almost overnight.
Take a moment to think about some of the technology we use today that really wasn’t around or popular 5-10 years ago - Uber services, Slack, VR/AR, Airbnb, Google Chrome...to name a few. The internet has grown from an information portal to a connector of data, devices, and people.
“Kevin Ashton is an innovator and consumer sensor expert who coined the phrase “the Internet of Things” to describe the network connecting objects in the physical world to the Internet.” (The Smithsonian Magazine)
The Internet of Things (IoT), permeates not only our work environments, but our everyday home life as well; from smart light bulbs to smart home heating and utility tracking.
Now more than ever consumers are not only wanting, but needing easily accessible data and the option for self-servicing, in order to better time-manage day-to-day activities and their workload as a whole.
Customer service levels and customer expectations are not static, they are evolving month by month, year by year, and experience by experience. It’s imperative that any consumer-facing organization, like a utility company, understands the constant changes in the way customers prefer to communicate/engage with their service providers.
Here are 5 strategies for utilities to consider when adapting and responding to this changing market when trying to engage the utility customer:
1- The Power of Self Service
Utilities and customer-centric businesses alike, want to make it as easy as possible for people to interact with them. These entities should consider giving customers the same type of online self-service tools they have come to expect in dealing with financial institutions and other service organizations. In fact, 90% of customers said they expect companies to offer an online portal for self-service (Microsoft, 2017).
Through a utility’s web portal or mobile app, customers can use their device of choice to get paperless bills, sign up for pre-authorized payments, make changes to their account information and do much more. By making access easy, transactions quick and accurate, and by giving people control over their own information, utilities provide better service, which increases customer satisfaction. Online customer service for utility companies is becoming the norm, and expected.
2 - Easy, Low-Effort Access
With the rising number of people owning smart devices - phones, tablets, AI home devices, TVs and watches - customers expect fast, convenient and accessible services from utilities. An online customer service solution must feature responsive design, allowing it to be optimally displayed on any of these devices, making access to information and interaction easy.
With this kind of instant access, customers realize true convenience, allowing them to pay bills quickly and avoid late penalty fees, for example. Utilities can also ‘push’ automatic notifications to customers, informing them of due payments, service outages, energy usage threshold alerts, and more.
3 - Engaging Online Experience
Having a customer service web solution put in place won’t work if the customer doesn’t feel inclined to use it. The aesthetics of a customer web portal, in addition to its intuitive functionality, are both a reflection of a utility’s services and their relationship with their customers.
The look must be clean, modern and well organized, with the support of easy-to-navigate features and ease of use. Features such as well-organized information, drop-down menus with pre-validated choices, simple navigation and overall good design will ensure that customers use the portal.
4 - Customer Service Efficiency
Utilities must decide to either increase staffing in their call centers (and increase costs) to meet the rising demand, or find alternative ways to respond to the high volume of common customer queries.
With the right web portal, customers can manage their own accounts, sparing utility customer service representatives from having to key in information. All of the customer’s desired information, data, and insights are available at their finger-tips. Not only does this save the CSRs time and, in-large, company costs, but it reduces the likelihood of keyed-in errors.
5 - Comprehensive Utility Portals
Whatever kind of customer service solution a utility puts in place, it should always aim to solve problems instead of creating new ones. A web portal and/or mobile app should be easy to implement and be able to run reliably with little to no involvement from IT.
As part of its reliability and self-sufficiency, a customer service solution should also have the option to automate common utility forms, in order to save time and improve customer interactions. What once might have been handled through paper forms, PDFs, spreadsheets and other inefficient manual processes, can now be made available through customer browsers, tablets and smartphones.
The SilverBlaze Customer Portal delivers a feature-rich solution for e-billing, usage tracking and management, smart forms, content management, and more. It gives utilities the opportunity to interact with customers in new ways, providing relevant information faster with the use of ‘push’ notifications.
SilverBlaze now also offers an easy to use mobile app add-on to our portal. The new app can be customized for your utility and offers consumers an intuitive, feature-rich experience. To learn more about our mobile app, click here.
SilverBlaze helps public, private, and municipal utility providers throughout the United States, Canada, and the Caribbean, to improve customer satisfaction with increased engagement, while delivering positive ROI results.