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Jan 22, 2020 | By Brent | Share this article

The customer service landscape has evolved significantly in the digital age. Customers expect fast, convenient service on their terms – and utility companies are no exception. 

For utility providers looking to deliver an efficient, seamless and convenient customer experience, Conversational AI might be the answer. For the most part, customers don’t typically engage with their utility providers until they either encounter a service issue or need to manage their account. In the event of an influx of customer complaints or interactions, the benefits of a 24/7 Conversational AI channel would be significant. It’s ability to answer common customer queries instantly in the channels they prefer to interact on could reduce call centre costs by 30%, decrease time spent on hold, and increase customer satisfaction. 

Download the Guide to Conversational AI for Utility Providers

Below, we discuss some situations in which Conversational AI would both improve customer experience and provide business value for utility companies. Please note that the examples given are not exhaustive lists.

1. It can benefit customers by offering simplified account management

Where customers would previously have had to fill out a lengthy form, navigate a number of page menus or place a call to a call centre, a virtual assistant or Conversational AI interface allows for one simple and convenient channel to manage these inquiries. Making account management painless for customers is a strong differentiating factor for utility companies in particular, as the industry is one of the lowest-performing in terms of digital experience. Currently, only 33% of customers report experiencing a customer experience that stands out. Below are some potential account management use cases that could benefit from Conversational AI:

  • Billing: customers can view their outstanding balance, pay their bill, and ask questions to help them better understand their billing. 
  • Usage: customers can view their usage levels and compare them month-to-month. Being able to conveniently track usage can help customers conserve energy and have increased consistency in their monthly bills. 
  • Services: customers can sign up for services such as paperless billing or autopay, file a damage complaint, or request services such as tree trimming.
  • Alerts: customers can sign up to receive notifications and alerts. For example, notifications about invoices becoming available, an alert that informs the customer that their usage is high, or staying informed on planned or unplanned power outages.

2. It can answer frequently asked questions faster

Call centres and customer service agents can quickly become overwhelmed by frequently asked questions that could easily be deflected by a 24/7 Conversational AI channel. Imagine the improvement to the customer experience if customers could quickly ask a question to a chatbot or virtual assistant and get an instant and correct response instead of having to wait on hold or wait for an email reply. In the energy and utility industry specifically, customers can face up to 72 minutes waiting on hold, which can lead to ongoing frustration for both customers and the customer service agents who need to help them. Below are some examples of FAQ’s that customer service agents routinely have to answer that could easily be contained and answered by a Conversational AI system: 

  • Outage information: during a large scale outage, call centre wait times skyrocket as every impacted customer is looking for information. Conversational AI can deflect spikes in call volumes by providing up-to-date outage information and expected resolution times online and on the channels customers prefer, while only escalating more complex customer queries to call centre agents.
  • Prices and rates: being able to provide customers with a rate approximation for their area can go a long way towards exceptional experience. 
  • Peak periods: keeping customers informed about when utility costs are at their highest and lowest can help customers plan for when to use high-energy appliances, and can lead to improved satisfaction. 

3. It can provide public safety information more easily 

A strong asset many utility companies have on their website is the abundance of public safety information. Keeping customers well informed and safe is extremely important. Conversational AI can help to answer simple questions related to energy and electricity safety, or direct a customer to a particular information page if prompted. In either circumstance, it easily directs  customers to the right information, increasing the likelihood that they will consume this content and get the right answer to their query. Below are some examples of public information that becomes more easily accessible to the customer through Conversational AI channels: 

  • Storm safety: keeping customers informed about storm safety is not just beneficial from a customer service aspect, but is important for public health and safety too. Giving the customer information about storm preparation, how to prepare an emergency kit, providing storm safety checklists and informing them on how to safely reconnect after a storm is crucial, but can be challenging if a customer needs to sift through numerous article pages. 
  • Green practices: reducing environmental impact and encouraging energy conservation is becoming one of the most important things customers look for from their utilities company.
  • Information for residential and business customers: customers require specific information based on the services they are using. Comprehensive information about the differences in services based on customer type elevates the customer service experience. 

4. It can provide actionable business insights and gauge customer satisfaction 

Conversational AI has significant merit in terms of customer experience, but the internal use cases are just as valuable. Data gained through real-time customer interactions can be invaluable to an organization, especially when it comes to content consumption and evaluating how customers are interacting with your brand online. Below are some examples of how insights derived from Conversational AI interactions can help utility providers: 

  • Assessing value: based on common customer inquiries and complaints, utility companies can assess the usefulness and value of the services and content they offer, and act accordingly.
  • Preventative action: based on the analytics derived from real customer interactions, utility companies can note common pain points in their customer experience or services, and take preventative action to improve them. 
  • Sales: by analyzing insights from Conversational AI channels, utility companies can create customer personas and recommend additional services and upsell opportunities. 

If you are looking for more information on how Conversational AI can benefit the Utilities industry, feel free to download our Guide to Conversational AI for Utility Providers.