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5 ways digital technology is improving the utility service experience

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By Tony Corlett, Commercial Enterprise Client Director at Maintel

The current utilities market has never faced greater competition or demands from regulators. However, adopting digital technology can significantly improve the overall utility service experience; from engaging and retaining customers, to adhering to regulation.

It’s easy for organisations to be overwhelmed by the myriad of services and technologies that are available to help them improve competitiveness or compliance. Selection of the appropriate technology and delivery partner is key to success.

Failure to effectively choose and integrate new technologies can have significant repercussions and affect relationships with customers, regulators, and ecosystem partners.

New technology can help utility organisations to improve operational efficiency, resilience, and compliance. Through integration of the online and on-phone experience, reducing costs, and empowering employees, digital technology has an important part to play in improving the utility service experience:  

  1. Improving customer experience

A great customer experience is paramount for utilities; from sales to in-life service, expectations are high, and competition is intense. This pressure comes in many guises, from industry peers, to resellers and comparison websites. So, the service experience must be easy, informative, and available through a range of contact channels. Failure to quickly meet customer expectations can result in them easily moving to another supplier.

Digital technology can significantly improve customer satisfaction by delivering systems that can provide information, handle calls efficiently, and integrate online and on-phone communications. Also, information provided during a service disruption or outage can significantly reduce customer frustration and improve overall call handling efficiency.

Services such as contact centre and unified communication solutions can help address the above challenges and improve the utility customer experience.

  1. Enhancing employee productivity and satisfaction

New technology now allows utility organisations to enable a more empowered and flexible workforce and therefore drive greater productivity. Ensuring that employees are engaged, motivated, and digitally empowered is key to maximising efficiency. Utility organisations typically depend on good internal communications to operate effectively, and so designing and integrating an effective workplace communication infrastructure is critical to improving the overall employee experience. Using technology to automate processes and free teams from repetitive tasks significantly helps drives efficiency and allows a focus on providing a great supply experience. Conversely, not harnessing new technology can undermine operational efficiency and restrict employees’ ability to deal with customer enquiries.

  1. Increasing security and ensuring compliance

Utility companies have unique safety requirements and often operate in high risk environments, with stringent compliance and security regulations across the entire organisation. Network security, protected data, intrusion protection, virus detection and removal are critical requirements for all utilities. Ensuring the safety and compliance of these organisations is essential to enhance cyber security and prevent threats including viruses, hacking, piracy and DDoS attacks. Leading-edge technology can help prevent breaches which could result in the loss of customer data or operational failure, both of which can be catastrophic for any utility organisation.

  1. Optimising organisational resilience

Organisational resilience is a priority for any utility organisation, both for competitiveness and for regulatory compliance. Installing a highly secure network solution ensures that multiple devices and locations can be seamlessly connected. This enables telemetry and usage data to be captured and analysed to optimise energy network performance and customer consumption. Networking technologies can also be used to monitor utility distribution infrastructure and help avoid leakage and wastage problems by allowing instant and secure access to critical system data. A highly resilient utility organisation is better positioned to sustainably serve the long-term needs of its customers.

  1. Operational efficiency

Managing costs and ensuring operational efficiency is critical for any utility organisation. Replacing old technology with more effective alternatives can lower support costs, improve the ability to collaborate and increase resilience. Proactively monitoring networks and usage patterns can also help to reduce wastage, minimise consumption and deliver sustainability. By using technology to monitor energy consumption, not only can the optimal supply and distribution balance be achieved but customers can also receive real-time consumption information to help them reduce their usage. In addition, digital transformation offers a convenient opportunity to simplify infrastructure by consolidating to fewer suppliers. Using a variety of technologies from disparate vendors is complex to manage and not always cost-effective.

WEBINAR REWIND: Staff wellbeing and engagement in your contact centre: Why your business success depends on it

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Don’t worry if you missed MaxContact’s recent webinar about why improving staff wellbeing and engagement is more important than ever to ensure business success in your contact centre – you can now watch the entire session on-demand.

With 72%* of contact centre workers saying they are burnt out or facing burnout, and the ‘great resignation’ hitting the UK contact centre industry hard, how do you look after your employee’s wellbeing, keep them engaged with your business and drive business results?

The panel discusses:

• Why staff wellbeing matters to your business
• How to engage staff to improve retention rates and hit targets and KPIs
• Key wellbeing and engagement initiatives to implement in your business now
• Live audience Q&A

About the speakers:

Natalie Calvert: CX and EX executive coach, Natalie Calvert, has led over 100 customer and employee experience transformations across Europe, Asia, the Middle East and the USA. Natalie helps transform business culture, with her proven track record having impacted over 200,000 employees globally.

Sean McIver: With over 15 years experience in various roles and industries within the contact centre industry, from the front lines to looking after teams and systems, Sean has a wealth of industry knowledge. Now a Product Owner at MaxContact, Sean focuses on delivering the vision and objectives of MaxContact’s customer engagement platform, ensuring the customer voice is at the heart of every decision.

Click Here To Watch

*Independent research of 750 customer facing workers conducted in November 2021 by MaxContact.

Consumers want more self-service options

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81 percent of consumers say they want more self-service options yet only 15 percent of consumers expressed a high level of satisfaction with the tools provided to them today whereas businesses believe 53 percent of consumers are very satisfied with their self-service.

That’s according to the NICE 2022 Digital-First Customer Experience Report, which highlights significant gaps between company and consumer perceptions of current digital- and self-service channels.

This despite 95 percent of companies reporting a major increase in self-service requests in 2021, indicating a rapid growth in consumer demand for greater speed and convenience.

The 2022 Digital-First Customer Experience Report was designed to compare the perspectives of businesses and consumers regarding self-service and digital channels, drawing on responses from 1320 respondents in the United States and the United Kingdom.

NICE noted that consumer expectations are increasing as digital and self-service channels proliferate and evolve, which has led to companies searching for insights into customer experience and brand loyalty. The NICE report is intended to meet that need, revealing potential blind spots among service providers and helping them improve their digital and self-service options. For example, although 36 percent of consumers say they would like to see companies make their self-service smarter, less than 11 percent of businesses are making that a priority.

More generally, the NICE report indicates that 95 percent of consumers place great importance on customer service which impacts brand loyalty. Online self-service and easy access to their preferred channels are two of the top customer service factors in their decision regarding brand loyalty. The majority of consumers (57%) surveyed said they would abandon a brand after one or two negative digital customer service interactions, yet most businesses tend to underestimate how quickly that could happen. Nonetheless, the survey does show that companies recognize the importance of current digital channels to consumers and are attempting to improve their availability. In 2022, the top digital channels companies are planning to expand significantly are chat (47%), website access (44%), and search options (42%).

Paul Jarman, NICE CXone CEO, said, “Avoiding friction is the key factor today in shaping opinions and differentiating between brands consumers love and those they feel are not worth their time. We undertook the 2022 Digital-First Customer Experience Report in order to provide companies with the consumer’s viewpoint and to help them set priorities that drive frictionless experiences. While focusing on digital-first interactions, our report underscores the importance of both agent-assisted and self-service channels, with businesses primarily wanting the ability to choose whichever option they prefer at any given time. This confirms the need for CXi–Customer Experience Interactions–a new approach that focuses on the end-to-end digital customer journey, requiring a complete customer experience platform that only NICE CXone offers.”

You can download a copy of the report is available here.

Join the industry at the Contact Centre & Customer Services Summit this September

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There’s a free place waiting for you at the Contact Centre & Customer Services Summit – As a professional in this field, the event is designed to give you the opportunity to network and create new business relationships.

Here is what you need to know;

When: 12th & 13th September

Where: Radisson Blu Hotel, Manchester Airport

Format: Corporate ‘speed-dating’. As our guest, you will be provided with a bespoke itinerary of pre-arranged, 1-2-1 meetings with suppliers relevant to your requirements. A series of seminars will also be hosted throughout the day, and overnight accommodation, all meals and refreshments are also included.

Who Attends: Senior customer service professionals, with representatives from the likes of EasyJet, Direct Line Group, Cineworld, The Perfume Shop, Ocado Retail, Hoist Finance and many more.

Click here to secure your FREE place or contact me today to find out more.

GUEST BLOG: Top tips for deploying AI in your contact centre

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Jonathan Sharp, Director, Britannic Technologies

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has been around for years but has recently started to gain traction in the contact centre industry. Gartner forecasts that by 2022, 30% of customer service experiences will be handled by conversational agents. AI is a disruptive technology causing a stir in the market, and with high customer expectations, companies should harness the power of AI to digitally transform and automate core services. Follow our top ten tips to assist you in deploying AI in your contact centre:

  • Call in the Experts

A Solution Provider who is experienced in real-time applications and systems integration will be able to work closely with you to discover your needs and requirements. Helping you put together a technology road map and strategy to solve business problems, transforming processes and improving customer service.

  • Strategy is Key

When deploying AI-powered digital assistants into the contact centre, it is advisable to have a comprehensive CRM and multi-media contact centre strategy as part of your overall digital transformation process. A Solutions Provider will ascertain what objectives you want your digital assistant to achieve, whether it’s to generate a sales lead or answer and process a customer service enquiry. They will then look at how a digital assistant will interact with your contact centre agents and the wider organisation if required.

  • To Fit with Your Business

Once you have covered the commercial objectives that you want to achieve and the processes required to set up, you can decide on the look and feel, conversational tone and content that you want to show with your digital assistant.

  • Your Star Employee

A conversational AI assistant has endless ability to self-learn whether that’s to learn the content from your website and or from customer conversations that take place in webchat. They can also recognise and pre-empt the needs of customers during similar interactions in the future.

The conversational AI will reliably answer customer questions using natural language understanding and processing and even resolve issues by completing web forms on behalf of the customer during the conversation. When the customer wants to speak to a human they can be transferred to a customer service agent when necessary.

  • Refocus Your Agents

It is advisable to make the digital assistant the first point of contact for website users because often the initial stage is customers gathering information or requesting answers to basic questions. This enables contact centre agents to focus on complex enquiries, handing over information sourcing to the digital assistant. This improves customer service as website users receive the information they require faster. Also, it helps eliminate high form abandonment on busy websites and brings added value to those who are looking to deploy an extremely efficient web chat in response to rising demand for self-service and one-touch communication channels.

  • Hand over the Basics to AI

Industries such as retail and travel have started to embrace the technology and reap the benefits. Britannic Technologies provides a conversational artificial intelligence solution called Ami that has already helped companies like Cruise 1st to boost profit by 47%. A self-learning digital assistant, Ami reads the Cruise 1st website in real time and independently decides how to use the knowledge to respond to enquiries and achieve predefined business goals. These can include generating sales leads or providing customer support by interacting with website visitors.

The company found that their sales agents were taking general, information seeking enquiries although they needed to be focused on sales calls. Now, Ami handles the customer research that previously would have blocked the telephone lines. She is delivering revenue to the business and the conversion rate in the call centre has increased from 20% to 22%.

  • Integration is Key

System integration is vital when deploying AI for it to be truly effective. You will require a Solutions Provider who is experienced in integration. They will assess what technology you currently have in place, what technology you require and whether you would benefit most from an on-premise or cloud-based solution. You can then identify where and how a digital assistant can be integrated into your existing systems in the back office and the front office.

  • A Single View

A Forrester survey revealed that 64% of the survey respondents said their greatest obstacle is creating a single view of customer data and information when improving CRM capabilities. And more than half acknowledged they struggle with creating customer insight to drive decision-making.

When a customer service agent deals with a customer’s enquiry they are often faced with several screens, which is cumbersome and difficult to manage. A Solution Provider will integrate a digital assistant into the contact centre so customers and agents are presented with a single user interface where all interactions can be completed on a single screen. This helps to make the customer journey seamless, and makes the agent’s job easier at the same time, enabling them to deliver a better experience. Agents can also view the screen of the digital assistant so they have visibility of all chats and can access both real-time and historical interactions.

  • Augmenting the Agent’s Role

AI helps contact centre agents to get rid of the mundane everyday tasks. This could include anything from call routing to answering basic questions that an auto-attendant or Web Real Time application could deal with. The more advancement in technology in the call centre, the more contact centre agents’ roles will be refocused on soft skills to deliver empathetic, personal service and advice. Together, these developments will help to improve customer experiences overall.

A digital assistant can also reduce the workload for the customer service team enabling them to deal with more complex enquiries resulting in a richer customer experience and adding the personal touch. Their ability to prioritise enquiries in terms of importance and urgency can even help to ensure that human agents are involved exactly where they need to be at any given time.

  • AI – the Opportunity

Artificial intelligence is the opportunity that busy customer services teams have been waiting for. If you get it right from the start and work with a Solution Provider experienced in real-time applications, contact centre technology, and system integration then the benefits of increased revenue, improved communications and better customer service will be worth it.

Businesses that consider introducing AI into their contact centres can already learn about Conversational AI and see these applications up close at business transformation events such as Convergence Summit where digital and customer experience experts share the strategies and frameworks necessary to safely introduce emerging technologies.

Learn more about Ami on https://www.btlnet.co.uk/solutions/contact-centre/contextual-apps-and-ai

GUEST BLOG: Chatbots – should we believe the hype?

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By James Rein, Senior Account Manager, Adexchange

Probably, yes. If you’re responsible for a contact centre and find your advisors listlessly answering the same, simple, non-specific questions every day then read on – a chat bot is likely to have a big impact on the efficiency of your operation.

‘In 2015, Swedbank achieved a 78% first contact resolution rate using a text based assistant which resulted in a 60% deflection from live assistance’ (issuu.com)

Impressive!

Let’s flip the perspective for a moment and think about things from the customer’s point of view. How many times have you sifted through pages and pages of FAQs, got bored, and thought ‘Nope, I’ll just call them’? How would it be if you could just type your question and get the answer straight away? Pretty nice, huh?

Chatbots aren’t infallible but it’s not the technology that could trip up your bot – that side of things is straightforward – it’s the effectiveness of the content.

Let’s dig a bit deeper.

What is a chatbot?

Think of a chatbot as the guardian of your FAQs and knowledgebase. It has access to all non-specific information any customer could possibly want and can deliver it to that customer instantly.

No need for any agent interaction, no need for customers to wait on hold for twenty minutes to get an answer and no lost business. That’s right – aside from improved efficiency generally, 53% of people are actually more likely to shop with a business they can message online. (Sproutsocial.com).

Just like advisors, chatbots evolve too. They might start life on your website and be set up to deal with your 30 most frequently asked questions. Within the first month of use a couple of trickier questions get asked and, at the same time, you get 5000 new ‘likes’ on Facebook.

You decide to add new questions and answers to your bot’s database and launch it in Facebook Messenger too. Then WhatsApp. Then you launch a new product and add FAQs about that as well. It’s easy to get all kinds of data relating to your bot’s performance and every reincarnation reduces the number of calls to your contact centre. This frees up your agents to deal with specific, more complex questions from customers.

So should I get one?

If your advisors are mostly occupied with intricate, customer specific questions then a chatbot probably isn’t going to be for you. However, if you’re inundated with calls from people asking questions they could easily have found the answer to online then yes, it’s definitely worth exploring the option of a chatbot.

The technology is only one part of the set up and, isn’t difficult or necessarily time consuming to get in place. The crucial element is making sure you get the content right.

In such a distracted world it’s time to ditch the corporate waffle and formal tone and really engage your customers by writing in a clear, informal and friendly way that they’ll find effective and refreshing.

Forget paragraphs of text – use white space, bullets, short sentences – and make your communication to the point and succinct.

A chatbot is only as good as the content powering it.

If you want to get more out of your Chatbot get in touch to see how we can help.