Efficacy of Bots in the Utility Sector

efficacy of bots in the utility sector

Imagine a day in your life, when the electricity supply at your home goes kaput! In pitch darkness, you manage to find your way to the kitchen but the tap is dry!
Basic amenities, such as water, sewage services, electricity, natural gas, etc. are something that we take for granted; however, we need them to be available 24 x 7, 365 days a year. For these services to be completely uninterrupted, they need to be continuously monitored and maintained by skilled engineers and technicians.
Likewise, customers expect service and support from the utility firms to be round-the-clock and not just a 9 to 5 support. Bots can intelligently handle a myriad set of customer queries, reduce the need for manual intervention, and are bound to revolutionize the overall experience element for customers of the utility firms.  

Current state of the Utility Sector

Globally the utility sector has been on a roller-coaster ride over the past decade. Although there has been a sharp growth in global demand, stocks of many utility firms have either lost value or have posted below-average returns. An analysis by Mckinsey of the 50 major publicly listed utilities from Asia, Europe, and North America showed average total cumulative returns to shareholders of about 1 percent from July 2007 to July 2017, compared with 55 percent for the MSCI World Index. 

Although there have been monumental changes happening across utility firms to up the ante, the sector has only just started to make digital advancements, which have been conservative at its best. According to a survey conducted among top executives of Utility sector firms in 2019, “More than 50% of the survey respondents had under-estimated the benefits their firm can derive from intelligent automation initiatives”. It is estimated that if intelligent automation, through the usage of different technologies is used at scale, the utility sector could realize cost savings from USD237 Billion to USD813 Billion!

For companies in this sector, management of infrastructure, operational performance, and creating engaging experiences for customers is closely tied to their overall success. However, creating a compelling experience for customers and meeting their changing expectations is the ultimate differentiator between the firms. Customers detest lengthy wait times on customer support calls and look for a complete resolution of their query. Moreover, customers are keen to use self-service solutions and appreciate high-quality self-service platforms.

Covid-19: Disruptor in Chief

Over the last decade, the utility sector has been significantly disrupted by various market forces; but none have been more significant than providing constant, uninterrupted support to countless consumers and employees during a global pandemic. For the players to exist and survive in this scenario, firms need to rapidly respond to the exponential rise in digital customer engagements.

Regular utility consumers locked down in the safe sanctity of their homes have been grateful to utility sector firms and their employees for providing continued services; however, at the same time, there has been an increased inability of a fairly large group of consumers to pay utility bills on time.
According to survey results released by the National Endowment for Financial Education (NEFE), 9 in 10 (~88%) Americans say the COVID-19 pandemic crisis is causing them financial stress. More importantly, paying Utilities’ bills is one of the top five factors that is causing customers the most anxiety.

Additionally, in the case of private utility service firms, consumers can move from one service provider to another, if they are disappointed with the overall service. It hence becomes critically important to pre-empt and avoid this churn.

Bots to the rescue!

For a sector that needs to provide unhindered services to its consumers and be always available for supporting them, Bots employed on the text and voice-based interfaces are the need of the hour. Bots can give the utility consumers a consistent experience across different channels, learn and quickly adapt to unfamiliar phrasing of questions; thereby delighting them.

While assisting businesses to connect to consumers more directly and effectively, Bots can decrease response time to customer queries, connect seamlessly to agents if required, and also tremendously reduce the overall operating expenses for the firms.

Bots can offer numerous other benefits to utility sector firms for below different phases of the customer journey:

Lead Acquisition

lead capture via bots
  • Capturing new leads who are interested in availing the service: In the case of private utility services such as Energy Supply, customers are willing to move to a different provider if they are unhappy with the services. In such a situation, a Lead generation bot on the provider’s website/mobile app can successfully capture such leads. The Bot can also be integrated with a CRM platform for capturing the complete journey of the lead.
  • Re-targeting churned customers: Churned customers who are now using a different utility service provider can be re-targeted by pushing new offers through Voice and WhatsApp channel

Customer Service:

customer service via chatbots
  • Registering a complaint and Booking a Technician’s appointment:  Customers can book a complaint or register a service request through the Bot. Through integration with suitable ITSM tools, the bot can maintain and provide the status of customer’s complaints and requests.
  • Payment of Utility Service bills: Payment of Utility Service Bills using the Bot through integrations with different payment service providers and via scanning the QR code on the bill
  • Broadcasting important notifications to customers: Important notifications such as on Power Outage, Bad weather conditions, Change in timings for garbage pick-up, updates on maintenance schedules and interruptions, etc. can be broadcasted using Voice Bot, or through different channels such as WhatsApp to customers.
  • Round-the-clock Automated Customer Service IVR: Dedicated 24-7, IVR service (DTMF+Voice Bot) for catering to customer’s queries, providing assistance, and registering a customer’s complaint.

Delight:

bill pay via chatbots
  • Utility Bill Management for regulating usage: Managing the consumer’s utility service usage, suggesting ideas to optimize usage, answering customer queries related to the bills can be achieved by a Bot. 
  • Store Locator for Offline Bill payment: For individuals desirous of making utility service payments through stores, the Bot can help in locating designated stores basis the consumer’s Pin code.
  • Relocation of connection/service and updating customer details: There are occasions when a customer relocates but wishes to continue availing the utility services. In such a scenario, the Bot can capture the customer’s details and assist in relocating the connection/service to the new location.
  • Temporary suspension of utility service: Provision of temporarily suspending the utility service for the required number of days through the chatbot.

Bots can be built and trained to understand versatile conversations (in multiple languages too!) and can be scaled up instantly to deal with a very large volume of work and transactional requests. In a sector as customer-focused as the Utility sector, Bots integrated seamlessly with various channels and software platforms will make a world of difference in improving the overall customer experience.

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