The utility blueprint for customer experience innovation

Martin Taylor, deputy CEO at Content Guru, discusses why responding to changing customer behaviours and expectations is fundamental to business success.

The business survival mindset brought about by the pandemic has cemented new ways of thinking and provided a foundation for future innovation. As we have seen over the last year, for most organisations it can take a genuine external disruption to facilitate concrete internal change.

For instance, a recent survey on business leaders by McKinsey confirmed that Covid-19 has stimulated a rapid shift to interacting with customers through digital channels, with three times as many respondents reporting at least 80 per cent of their customer interactions are now digital in nature.

The result of this shift goes far beyond the immediate impact of providing enhanced services and experience for customers. When combined with a fundamentally different cultural mindset – which is still in motion now as everyone continues to navigate the pandemic – it has created both the foundation and roadmap for dramatic innovation over the coming years.

The challenge for many consumer-facing organisations is that behaviour and preferences have been permanently changed by recent events. As a result, the ways in which businesses use technology to improve customer interactions and brand relationships has become central to commercial and reputational survival in a new landscape of fragile consumer loyalty.

Gone are the ways when digital channels were just part of the CX mix – consumer sentiment is already turning against businesses which fail to meet the challenge of delivering digitally and anticipating needs. In contrast, there are huge benefits available to organisations that succeed in optimising the digital experiences.

The question is, how can organisations maximise this opportunity and what can be learnt from organisations with experience of improving customer service through digital channels?

The power of digital CX

The utilities market is among the sectors that have built significant experience in using digital customer experiences as a differentiator – not just recently, but over a number of years. Given the way that the market operates, where consumers are encouraged to switch providers to secure the latest deal, competing purely on price has become extremely challenging. Indeed, the emergence of auto switching services is taking price considerations out of the hands of customers almost entirely.

To the utility brands, this is nothing new. Back in 2003, for instance, advertising, media and marketing magazine, Campaign, was highlighting the clear shift in the way utilities were choosing to present themselves and their products – away from price and towards being ‘customer-focused’.

As a highly regulated sector subject to consistent scrutiny and even financial penalties around customer satisfaction, UK utility firms have emerged as unlikely trail blazers in pushing the boundaries of innovation. As early adopters in proactive, self-service and human-serviced approaches to CX at scale, they have demonstrated the value of integrating communications with information systems as a route to effective customer engagement and a way to ensure consistency across diverse customers and channels.

Today, many utility company contact centres focus on omnichannel customer engagement strategies that blend social media, text, chat, voice, web and mobile self-service. They have also become highly proficient in anticipating customer needs, such as those of vulnerable users, and have optimised the way they manage and cascade information to customers across all relevant communication channels during unexpected events.

Integrating CX in real time

From a technology perspective, utilities have built these capabilities by deploying cloud-based solutions that integrate omnichannel communications with operational information systems, with the capability to route real-time fault progress data and live mapping information into consumer-facing contact services.

In practical terms, this arms their customer service teams with the information to assist what can often be distressed customers in real time, including delivering live updates over the phone. This process is further optimised by automatically routing customers to the service specialist best placed to handle their inquiry or solve their problem.

What’s more, this level of integration also allows firms to track when customers use social media for information on major events, such as a power cut in their area. This insight can then be automatically shared with service agents, who can use it to personalise information and support as required.

By employing enhanced real-time analytics, providers can plan and allocate contact centre resources in line with changing and predicted demands. For example, a power outage or major weather event will see social media volumes and phone traffic jump dramatically. But, by being aware of these pressures as they develop, utilities can add extra contact centre resources – sometimes staffed by personnel from other departments in the business when demand is particularly high.

There are dividends for everyone involved. Customers receive the same level of service and information, whichever channel of communication they select, and by enhancing first contact resolution, the need for repeat calls can be reduced.

Any organisation that is focused on improving digital customer experiences must not lose sight of the importance of the human factor in this equation. While intelligent chatbots are increasingly effective, live takeover functionality by a human expert remains key to solving more complex issues. Retaining the ability to respond with agility to changing customer behaviours and expectations is fundamental to making the most of any customer communication channel – digital included.

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