ARCHIVE FOR THE ‘digital-customer-service’ CATEGORY
I write this article in the second week of January. An odd time when faded Christmas trees lay abandoned in gardens, and flashes of tinsel peek through wheelie-bins. Festive memories seem a long time ago and the summer seems even further away as we return to work. We snooze the 6am alarm, reluctant to step into the cold morning.
Symbolising this grim time of year is the broken boiler. Plummeting temperatures mean faults are common and energy companies come under pressure to respond and to deliver first-time fixes. Customers, particularly on a cold January morning, want radiators hot and their showers hotter.
In Britain, central heating was introduced in the 70s. Then it was seen as something of a luxury. Today it is seen as a basic requirement, we miss it sorely when it’s not around so when the boiler flame goes out, we demand a quick response from our supplier. An expectation affirmed by the Uber and Amazon delivery service-times we operate in.
So has the utility sector adapted to the modern customer demand and if not,what does it need to do to keep up? Are they instead content to just keep their regulators at bay? And what about technology adoption? Do firms still feel uncomfortable dipping their toes in big-data lakes?
Historically, utilities have felt ring-fenced from competition. The majority of companies have a monopoly over the areas they supply. Investing in complicated and costly digital strategies has never been high on the agenda. Stephen J Callahan IBM’s VP of Global Strategy and Solutions for Energy and Utilities explained why outfits remain sceptical in an article for RDMag in 2015: “The analytics opportunity for utilities is clear,” he wrote, “but there continues to be a lack of real push and value delivery. Companies have been concerned about the high costs and complexity of data. “Technology shifts, regulatory changes and the emergence of empowered consumers all demand a new approach to customer engagement. With analytics, energy companies can make the shift to engage with customers in highly personalised ways that can increase customer satisfaction, lower the cost of service and promote new products and services,” he urged.
For UK energy companies, customers switching tariffs and regulation from the Office of Gas and Electricity Markets (OFGEM) are the main drivers influencing its customer strategy. Transparent costs and price comparison sites have
made swapping easier for consumers and in 2016, 4.8 million frustrated households did just that. Their main reason? Poor customer service.
That said, despite the numbers, and a strong PR campaign around the ease of which it can be done, the rate of switching is perhaps not where OFGEM want it to be. “I think switching is happening but probably at a lower level than the regulators would be aiming for,” explains Laurence Cramp from Leadent, a managing consulting and technology business specialising in field service. “Mainly because people are using the supplier in their area and they’ll stay with that supplier.
“It also comes from the fact that tariffs are all in and around the same range so consumers tend to be paying about the same price for their energy. The customer service may be better or worse at some or others but that’s not necessarily linked with what billing platform they’ve just integrated. I think people probably look at the power sector and think it’s much of a muchness.”
In the UK, British Gas, SSE, EDF Energy, npower, E.ON UK and Scottish Power form the “Big Six”, the suppliers who provide the majority of energy to the UK. Smaller and more streamlined energy companies, with a strong focus on service exist, yet consumers seem content to stick with the top names.
Of those, British Gas is the UK’s largest energy supplier and can lay claim as the world’s first public utility company. Set-up in 1812 as The Gas Light and Coke Company, the firm provided customers with coal-based energy. The sector, and technology, has moved on considerably – not least with the advent of electricity – and British Gas has done its best to keep-up, adopting technology to enhance its customer service processes. It recently rolled-out its ‘On My Way’, real-time engineer tracking facility, enabling customers to see the precise location of the engineer, producing an accurate arrival time for time-starved customers.
"In 2016, 4.8 households switched energy supplier. Their main reason? Poor customer service..."
Tim Andrew is the CEO of Localz, the company behind British Gas’ location tracking technology. He says 2019 will see utility watchdogs push companies hard when it comes to customer service. “Regulators continue to increase their focus on customer experience, using both penalties and incentives to drive same-year measurable improvements,” he predicts.
“This year will show that the companies who outperform the industry, continuously focusing on providing transparency and control to consumers, rather than running a project to meet the minimum regulatory requirements.”
Consumers are hamstrung to the area they reside: Southern Water, Thames Water, Yorkshire Water for example, with customers unable to switch tariffs. With consumers locked-in to contracts, how are suppliers kept on their toes to ensure they deliver on customer service?
Here, the Water Services Regulation Authority (OFWAT) keeps economic tabs on companies. Set-up in 1989 following the privatisation of England’s 10 water authorities, it carries out a review every five years with this year (2019) being the next period of scrutiny.
This cycle will see companies adopting a Customer Measure of Experience (C-MeX) incentive approach, intended to focus firms on delivering a high-standard of customer service. C-MeX supersedes Service Incentive Mechanism (SIM), a customer satisfaction survey carried out four times a year by the regulator, and will link financial incentives to the performance level of the best performing companies.
Cramp believes the new approach will spur-on companies, through the use of technology, to be more comprehensive in their customer focus. “C-MeX is there to encourage firms to be more holistic and rounded in what they do for their customers,” he says. “This is a good time for water firms because they’re now all gearing up for the next five years and undoubtedly customer service is a really big part of that with a lot of focus on investment in technology to help
However, he suggests the water companies are some way behind their energy counterparts who, driven by their own regulator OFGEM, have already integrated such initiatives “I see the water companies playing catch-up with where the power utilities were five years ago. I think the energy regulator has been on that case a little bit ahead of the water companies than OFWAT,” he says.
The utilities sector is a broad market, however like field service, which straddles numerous verticals, there exists an opportunity to share best practice across its own verticals: water, electricity and gas. Is it possible for the energy sector to extend its five years of technology-focused customer learning to its water counterparts?
“In our daily lives we take a great experience from one industry, and get frustrated when that isn’t available in another,” says Localz’ Tim Andrew, who is adamant it can. “As a business, trying to meet, let alone exceed customer expectations by
taking input from just an internal or single industry perspective is futile. Cross-industry collaboration and product development is critical.”
As well as working together, the sector needs to invest sensibly in technology, particularly around customer service. There are murmurings that this is starting to happen, particularly in the water industry but how long this will take is even less clear. Studies suggest that worldwide firms are setting aside funds to do just that. In 2015, GTM research anticipated utility company spend on data analytics growing from the $700 million spent in 2012 to $3.8 billion by 2020, a huge leap but it need not be a leap into the unknown and at all times, the customer should be at the heart of any decision.
“Becoming a customer-centric, information driven organisation is no longer simply an option for most utility companies. It’s a business imperative,” Callahan said in his 2015 rallying call to the utilities sector. Four years’ on, will his words have had an impact?
Watch this space.
What will be the key technology trends in 2016 for customer service engagement? Customer contact technology specialist Sabio outlines its top ten trends for 2016 and suggests five initiatives that should be top of any field service company's...
What will be the key technology trends in 2016 for customer service engagement? Customer contact technology specialist Sabio outlines its top ten trends for 2016 and suggests five initiatives that should be top of any field service company's digital customer service agenda.
“Today’s customers are having their service expectations reshaped by advances in consumer technology, and will become increasingly frustrated when having to engage with brands that don’t perform to the same levels as their best practice competitors,” commented Sabio’s Head of Consultancy, Stuart Dorman. “Offering more intelligent service and making it easier to engage can make a huge difference - not only by helping organisations to optimise operational performance, but also in terms of freeing up customer time so that they can actually spend more of their lives doing what they actually want to do.”
Dorman's predictions for the top trends for effective customer engagement in 2016 are:[ordered_list style="decimal"]
- Understanding the true impact of mobile – ever-increasing smartphone penetration means that a growing proportion of service interactions will be transacted on smart devices, so it’s essential that service providers ensure their customer journeys feature clear links to live service via an effective contact centre interface.
- Placing Embedded Service at the heart of the web browser – with over 50% of customers going online before engaging with a contact centre, it makes increasing sense to embed service options within web pages – a trend that will develop further as WebRTC progressively turns the Web into an open communication platform.
- Video-based service becomes mainstream – initial video pilot projects are now going live as organisations, particularly in sectors such as financial service, begin to see video support as a premium differentiator that can strengthen brand relationships.
- Messaging platforms scale to deliver social service – social networks are busy building out their messaging platforms, and will start to open them up to commercial brands who recognise that’s increasingly where their customers are likely to be. With platforms like Facebook Messenger already supporting voice, organisations need to be ready to support those customers who want to engage directly from their social messaging environment.
- Increasingly smart use of data and analytics – Speech and text analytics have now become essential contact centre technologies in the same way that customer feedback did 5 years ago. Now organisations are looking to leverage the immense computing power of the cloud to take this one step further. By combining multiple data sources such as voice of the customer, CRM data, speech/text analytics and contact centre meta data, organisations are using big data analytics techniques to drive an even deeper understanding of their customers.
- Much smarter Virtual Assistants – the same technologies that are powering consumer search services are now being applied to intelligent virtual assistants. Rather than clicking, tapping, scrolling and typing - customers will increasingly have conversations with your website to get what they want, helping to transform their overall experience.
[quote float="left"]Technology isn’t the barrier – it’s your internal siloes that are causing the problems...
- Enabling natural dialogues through speech recognition - Ever-improving natural language understanding will go beyond simple speech recognition to create natural dialogues that effectively mimic agent interactions. Where the next generation of speech-enabled applications will quickly evolve, however, is in their ability to translate caller intent data into a more conversational, intelligent self-service experience for customers.
- Biometrics gathers real market momentum – thanks to fingerprint recognition on millions of smartphones worldwide, consumers are now treating biometrics as a mainstream technology - with some using the interface over 30 times a day as they ‘sign-in’ to their personal device. Voice and fingerprint biometrics help to achieve the previously incompatible goals of both enhancing security while simultaneously delivering reductions in customer effort.
- Removing the digital siloes - it’s hardly surprising customers get frustrated, when so many organisations still operate and manage their digital and contact centre strategies separately. Closing this gap, and recognising that when people call contact centres today they have probably already been online first, will increasingly define how successful organisations are in delivering on their end-to-end digital customer service goals. Technology isn’t the barrier – it’s your internal siloes that are causing the problems!
- Measuring and reducing customer effort - the customer effort measure is all about surfacing those issues across channels that are making life harder than necessary for customers. Once identified, these can be systematically addressed to help reduce service costs, decrease customer churn and improve overall service levels.
“It’s also critical that organisations have the right strategic direction, infrastructure and expertise in place to take full advantage of these key technology directions,” added Dorman. “At Sabio we believe there are a number of specific programmes that digital customer service teams need to concentrate on over the next 12 months if they are serious about reducing effort and building an integrated Digital Front Door for their customers.”
Dorman says that in 2016 customer service organisations need to focus on:[unordered_list style="bullet"]
- Laying the foundations for Digital Service – organisations will need to draw on a broad portfolio of technologies in order to develop the kind of integrated journeys that will make life easier for customers. This will demand the development of ‘Digital Front Doors’ that embrace the end-to-end journey across both self-service and assisted interactions.
- Embed service into every digital journey - providing customers with true embedded service support for each stage of their digital journeys, with more context-sensitive embedded online service applications that draw on web chat or click-to-call to help resolve queries and enable customers to progress to the next stage of their journey with significantly reduced effort.
- Becoming Customer Service Session Designers – until now a major barrier to true end-to-end customer journey design has been the cost and complexity of creating solutions that draw together different parts of an organisation. Now, using the latest engagement development platform technology, customer engagement teams have the opportunity to take advantage of snap-in tools to ensure rapid and more cost-effective solution development.
Experiment by creating your own Customer Experience lab – it’s often difficult for organisations to know exactly which strategies or technologies to deploy in order to achieve their goals. It’s worthwhile establishing your own Customer Experience lab to find out how new ideas measure up when applied to a meaningful sample of live interactions.
- Recreate your Roadmaps based on Customer Experience -Reducing customer effort and building a more seamless experience requires the development of detailed UX-based roadmaps, breaking down specific elements to consider how much of the experience is actually value-creating and how much is wasted through waiting due to overly-complex or broken processes.