Surviving the storm: Utility providers customer service


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After more than a fortnight of severe weather and storms, resulting in over 1,700 properties being flooded in England and 750,000 effected by power cuts, utility providers have witnessed a significant surge in calls and enquiries to their contact centres from customers trying to resolve their issues.

Water companies like Severn Trent have reported receiving 30% more calls than normal recently due to increasing water levels and blocked sewers, and with further flood warnings and alerts being issued from the Environment Agency, the increased demand on customer service departments is set to continue.

Energy providers especially are under pressure to respond to the surge in customer enquiries quickly and efficiently, during a time when energy prices and complaints are at an all time high and the consumer’s faith in them is at an all time low.

Audrey Gallacher, Director of Energy at Consumer Futures, recently said: “Energy companies have repeatedly said they want to rebuild consumer trust. Good customer service and complaints handling are key ingredients to achieving this and suppliers still have a long way to go.”

With Ofgem’s new rules to cap the number of tariffs a supplier can offer and improve price transparency, energy providers now need to prioritise improving the customer experience and brand loyalty, which is often tested to breaking point during a weather crisis.

Today’s consumer uses a number of digital channels to communicate with a company and with the rapid rise in the usage of mobile devices – allowing them to quickly and easily compare and switch suppliers – the utility sector has to ensure it has the right multi-channel customer service strategy in place to meet growing expectations for an instant and consistent service 24/7, especially during an emergency.

Water companies as a whole continue to outperform energy suppliers in the customer satisfaction ratings. Northumbrian Water, winner of Utility of the Year at the recent Utility Week Achievement Awards, is an example of a well-implemented multi-channel approach to customer service. Their centralised knowledge-base of FAQ’s is deployed across their website and optimised for mobile, enabling customers to self-serve answers to their questions 24/7, significantly reducing the volume of general in-bound enquiries to their contact centre via phone or e-mail.

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Northumbrian Water

Wessex Water, Dwr Cymru Welsh Water, Yorkshire Water, Affinity Water and Southern Water are other examples of suppliers that offer customers web self-service via intelligent FAQ’s on their websites, helping customers find information on a range of subjects like paying bills, moving house, water meters and sewerage, 24 hours a day. For those customers with more urgent enquiries (like what to do in the event of a leak or flooding), water suppliers Welsh Water and Yorkshire Water also offer customers escalation to an agent in the contact centre via live chat.

Yorkshire Water

The majority of consumers now expect to self-serve answers to their questions, be it via a website, mobile device, live chat or social media and not to have to wait on hold or navigate through an endless IVR menu during a time of need.

A well implemented customer service strategy with a centralised knowledge-base at its core, is key to meeting the following challenges facing the utility sector:

  1. Improving operational and service cost efficiency
  2. Increasing customer satisfaction & loyalty levels
  3. Reducing customer contact – improving first contact resolution
  4. Offering a consistent multi-channel customer service

Having the right technology in place to handle this will be a key competitive differentiator.

We’ve put together a free guide and practical advice on implementing web self-service for utility providers, which you can download here.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Neldi Rautenbach
Neldi shares insight and best practice tips on multi-channel customer service from Synthetix. Synthetix is a leading provider of online customer service solutions - working with some of the world's best-known brands. Synthetix create bespoke customer service and knowledge base software that enable customers to self-serve timely, accurate and consistent answers to their questions via the web, mobile, e-mail forms, social networks and in the contact centre.


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