Top 3 complaints in the utility sector – and how to fix them

Topic: Utilities

Although improvements are being made, there’s still a lot of challenges with customer service in the utility sector. In this blog we’ll identify the issues, and also some of the routes to solving them.

When asked what impacts their level of trust with a company, consumers ranked excellent customer service at number one. And around the globe, 96% of consumers say customer service is an important factor in determining their loyalty to a brand (source).
While it’s doubtful any modern business needs proof as to the value of happy customers, sometimes the size of the challenge makes it too daunting to make progress – particular in the utilities sector, where customers number in their hundreds of thousands – and even millions. Taking the main issues one at a time, we’re hoping to make this a more manageable task, with solutions that are easy to implement and measure. 

1. Customers aren’t being told about the best tariffs available to them

Let’s start with the most publicised issue: you’ve been paying your bills on a certain tariff, only to find out that you could have been paying less on another tariff – something the provider neglected to let you know.

In a recent poll conducted by Utility Week, 10% of utility customers said they had switched providers in the past because of bad customer service. If energy providers communicated information about the best tariffs more effectively, then they could help to rebuild some of the lost trust with their customers and avoid them looking for a new supplier in the first place.

2. Call waiting times are still too long

We’ve all heard the horror stories! Here’s a sample from a big 6 customer: “I got passed from department to department, having to repeat my requirements again and again. Promised call backs were never received. The call times were horrendous and I spent over 30 minutes on every call I had to make to them.”
Getting through to a helpful customer service agent isn’t always easy for customers. This issue can often be made all the more infuriating by the fact that it is often much quicker to be connected to an agent which deals with new sales. This fact was illustrated by the BBC documentary Rip Off Britain. When calling the same utility provider, it took 53 minutes to connect to a customer service representative, compared with just 90 seconds to speak to a sales agent.
We can learn from this that the resources are not in place for effective customer support, and some providers’ commitment towards it in comparison to other areas of their business is poor.

3. Providers aren’t communicating in the most effective ways

Given increased pressure on margins, competition and customer expectations, utility providers cannot rely on a telephone contact centre alone to provide excellent customer service. Not only is it cost prohibitive, it’s not necessarily what modern customers want. In a survey carried about by Nuance, 67% of respondents preferred self-service over speaking to a company representative.
The same can be said of postal communications, which are still heavily relied on by utility providers. While preferred by some demographics, letters are slow, expensive, and there’s no way to tell when they’ve been opened. Hence the example of another big 6 customer: “One additional frustration was the continuous stream of letters; more than a hundred, I kept them all, sometime more than one per day.”
Emailing customer service is convenient for the customer – but only if they can expect a reply. As each email needs to be read and have a personalised response, it’s not a channel that scales up well. And there is nothing more frustrating to a customer than radio silence from their utilities provider.

What’s the answer?

There isn’t a silver bullet, but if you’re able to put more power in your customers’ hands to serve themselves for all but the most complex billing issues, they can quickly and easily get access to the services they need, providing extra convenience, and saving costs. Your existing agents’ time is then freed up to focus on more challenging tasks.
There is also a strong appetite for a move to these channels from demographics who are expected to drive growth. For example, a recent survey by Parature found that 34% of millenials (born after 1980) would rather go to the dentist than have to call a call centre.
There are multiple channels which provide this self-serve, mobile focused toolset.
Simpler channels like SMS can include links to online hosted, self-serve platforms, while more advanced tools like mobile web forms and IVRs can quickly guide customers through an array of customer journeys without the need for an agent.
Technologies such as RCS (which represents the next evolution of SMS) allow customers to carry out tasks like selecting tariffs and products, providing meter readings, and even making payments, all from within the user’s default messaging application.

Do bots have a part to play in this?

Bots have evolved a lot in recent times. With the use of modern NLP (Natural language Processing) systems, bots can now provide answers to most questions, and perform many actions automatically. This crucially includes taking payments, collecting meter readings and changing tariffs.
Consumers are also warming to them quite nicely. 39% of consumers are now willing to knowingly have a conversation with a bot – a number which is only expected to rise as consumers become more familiar with them.
To conclude, it’s worth repeating this Forrester Research statistic: 77% of people say that valuing their time is the most important thing a company can do to provide them with good service.
Value your customers time by giving them more control over interactions, and you’ll be on the way to better customer retention and a true competitive advantage. Take a look at our free customer service ebook for some more stats and ideas.

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