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Why Should Utility Companies Use Conversational AI?
Conversational AI enables utility providers to stay afloat on customers' urgent requests and enhance the overall experience while saving time and money.
When it comes to utilities, most customers would prefer a seamless interaction, especially if there’s a problem at hand. Consumers’ needs from the utilities sector are typically both sporadic and urgent. Someone needs service turned on, or off, or transferred – or they are reporting an outage and want to know when service will be restored.
Conversational AI has transformed these interactions, meaning that gone are the days of frustrating call center queues, confusing online menu options, and outdated FAQs. Many inquiries can be quickly resolved when customers can just verbalize what they want, in their own words. Below we discuss the most common situations where conversational AI would benefit utility companies and why.
1. Enhance Customer Care
Contact centers, phone lines, and service agents can get overwhelmed very quickly (especially if something significant happens like a severe weather situation as mentioned above). Many of these communications that come rolling in could soon be addressed by a 24/7 conversational AI agent. Customer satisfaction can skyrocket if their concerns are met with great speed and in a polite manner. Customers can ask a conversational AI assistant a question and get a response instantly instead of having to wait on hold or wait for an email reply.
In a 2018 study by The Telegraph in the United Kingdom, it was found that within the energy and utility industries, in particular, customers could wait up to 72 minutes on hold; leading to evident frustration, resentment, and irritation by customers who could then take it out overwhelmed customer service agents who are trying their best to reach every caller as quickly as possible. Instead of burdening employees, conversational AI could answer all these FAQs for customers:
- Outage information: During a large-scale outage, call center wait times skyrocket as every impacted customer is looking for various information types. Conversational AI can deflect spikes in call volumes by providing up-to-date outage information and expected resolution times online. On the channels, customers prefer while only escalating more complex customer queries to call center agents.
- Prices and rates: Providing customers with a rate approximation for their area can go a long way towards an 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 lead to improved satisfaction rates.
2. Simplify Account Management
Traditional means of utility communication would have customers filling out various forms, navigating through page menus, or waiting in a call queue; conversational AI implements virtual assistants as a convenient solution to manage all customer inquiries. Making sure customer service is the highest priority is a strong differentiating factor between provider choice by consumers. Forbes determined that the utility industry is one of the lowest-performing in terms of digital experience. Below are some possible account management uses that could benefit from conversational AI:
- Billing: Customers can view their outstanding balance, pay their bills, and ask questions to help them better understand their billing.
- Usage: Customers can view their usage levels and compare them month-to-month. 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.
3. Enable Quick Access to Vital Information for Your Customers
One asset that utility companies tend to take advantage of in advertising is the abundance of public safety information—keeping customers well-informed means keeping customers safe. Conversational AI can quickly answer simple questions regarding utility information, energy, electricity, and safety concerns. Customers can also be directed by virtual assistants to the proper page if prompted to do so.
Either way, customers are directly connected to the correct pages containing the correct information. This direction retains customer contentment and increases the likelihood of them getting their questions answered. Below are some typical examples of vital public information that can be more easily shared via conversational AI:
- Protection from inclement weather: Keeping customers informed about incoming inclement weather safety is not just helpful from a customer service aspect, but is important for public health and safety, too. Giving the customer tips on how to prepare for severe weather, how to build an emergency kit, providing severe weather checklists, and informing them on how to safely reconnect after an event is vital, but can be challenging if a customer needs to read through numerous sources of information.
- Eco-friendly practices: Reducing our negative environmental impact and proactively limiting energy consumption, is becoming one of the most important things that today’s consumers look for when they select a utility provider. There should be a specific page or portal for the ecological benefits from making changes in personal residences or businesses.
- Differences for residential and business customers: Customers require specific information based on the services they are using. Having in-depth, comprehensive information about the differences in services accurately, based on customer type, elevates the customer service experience.
4. Improve Business Analytics
Conversational AI has apparent benefits in terms of customer service and customer experience, but there are also practical uses for the internal and business sides. Data is collected in real-time based on customer interactions and is super valuable to a business. This data can give insights on consumption patterns, online interactions, customer satisfaction, and more. Below are some common examples of analytics that conversational AI can gauge:
- Assessing value: Based on typical customer inquiries and complaints, utility companies can evaluate the usefulness and weight of the services and content they offer and change or act accordingly.
- Preventative action: Based on the analytics derived from fundamental customer interactions, utility companies can note common faults in their customer experience or services and take preventive action to improve them.
- Sales: By analyzing insights from conversational AI channels, utility companies can create customer personas, recommend additional services, and upsell other products or solutions.
5. Save Time and Money
In a study conducted by Gartner, the majority of the modern investments into AI made by utility companies were related to customer service. Conversational AI can benefit utility companies by streamlining customer inquiries and boosting customer interactions, all while simultaneously reducing human labor costs associated with maintaining maximum amounts of customer support staff.
With AI, those tedious tasks once performed by humans are now automated. IBM found that conversational AI reduces labor costs by minimizing the reliance on human intervention— leading to as much as a 30% decline in customer support service fees. Conversational AI agents can also handle 80% of routine tasks and customer questions. These smart bots are available 24/7; there is no delay or closure due to time zones, public holidays, or sickness. They are always available no matter what. This service allows companies to always have a customer-centered AI virtual assistant that will increase customer satisfaction.
To conclude, while these are just a few examples of conversational AI being used within the utility industry, there are far more beneficial reasons why the industry should be shifting from traditional means to modern ones. The utility industry is one of the last industries still actively using some of the oldest technologies. Learn more about conversational AI, make the switch, and watch the benefits quickly accumulate!