Proactive communication helps guide utility customers down the right path. But sometimes you need them to make the most efficient, cost-effective or responsible choice on their own. Yet even when customers want to make the right decision, they oftentimes still need to contact you for help. That’s where inbound communication tools for utilities can help, and summer is a great time to get started.
Inbound communication tools for utilities are really no different than tools used in other industries. They include solutions like chatbots, contact center software, interactive voice response (IVR), webchat, email, web portals and more. So you may already be quite familiar with these tools and just need some guidance on how to get more from them.
With parties, heat and outdoor projects taking center stage, there are many reasons for customers to contact you during summer. And as shown by the list above, there are many options for them to contact you, too. We won’t be outlining how to use each one of those, but instead we’ll discuss three big ones used by other utility companies: chatbots, IVR and self-service.
Top Tools for Utility Providers
For those who are unfamiliar, here’s how we define each of those three tools:
Chatbots are digital assistants that communicate via texting or a web browser and react in a human way in real time. Current chatbots typically function within a limited scope, instead of being an end-all-be-all solution to every problem.
IVR is a very common tool employed by large and small companies around the world. It allows customers to communicate with a digital voice assistant rather than a live agent. The conversation often begins with a set of menu options, but natural language improvements continually make interactions more fluid and human.
Self-service is a generalized term used to describe interactions between customers and digital assistants in which people can solve their own problems without help from a live contact center agent. Chatbots and IVR both fall into this category, along with several other channels, like automated texting and web portals.
But knowing what these solutions are does no good if you can’t put them into practice. So here are three best use cases of these inbound communication tools for utilities.
Chatbot to Start, Stop or Transfer Service
Few people want to move to a new home in the middle of winter. But as the ice begins to thaw, the housing market picks up speed, and suddenly people across the nation need to switch their services to a new address.
Traditionally, each of those customers picks up the phone, waits to hear the right menu option from the IVR, waits on hold for an agent and finally gives the utility company his or her new address. The actual transaction only takes two minutes. But if several home buyers call at once, the time spent on hold quickly stacks up. The whole process could last 10 minutes or longer.
For simple interactions like these, another option just makes sense. And the best option comes by looking beyond the telephone and using many customers’ channel of choice: texting.
West partnered with one of the nation’s largest electricity providers to create an SMS chatbot solution that let customers start, stop or transfer service without speaking to a representative. Check out how it works in the video below.
This chatbot solution provides a new inbound communication tool for utilities that most customers haven’t experienced yet. Meanwhile, it cuts down on call volume and creates an overall better experience.
IVR to Schedule Appointments or Line Location
Air conditioning may be considered a luxury, but many customers see it as a necessity. So when their power goes out on a 90-degree day, they’re quick to reach for the phone.
And when summer hits, many homeowners are eager to get outside to start home renovations. That means more calls to your contact center looking for someone to locate underground utility lines, even if you ultimately direct them to call 811.
You probably already have an IVR set up. But with some seasonal modification, it can be one of the most important inbound communication tools for utilities nationwide. If you’re getting a large number of calls to schedule a service appointment, include that as a menu option early on in the IVR script. Or better yet, use natural language to let customers explain their problem at the start of the call.
But for the best experience, consider a visual IVR solution, like Visual Voice. It shows calendars, web forms and other visuals on the caller’s smartphone, making it quick and easy to schedule or find important information.
Self-Service for Bill Payments
Sure, billing doesn’t quite fit in the summer-only category, but payments are certainly not going to slow down after the weather heats up.
Perhaps the most obvious tool on this list, many utilities make use of web portals to let customers make online bill payments. And of those, a good number take the payments automatically each month.
But why stop there? As much as people love automated and online payments, think about how to expand the idea. Set up a payment option in your IVR. Let customers discuss payments via SMS (just don’t accept credit card information through a text message).
For an even better experience, consider other self-service options. Let customers check their bill. Or use smart meters to report current energy usage for the month. All of this can be automated and communicated through texts, making it easy for you and your customers.
Proactively Promoting Inbound Communication Tools for Utilities
While all of these work effectively as inbound communication tools for utilities, you’ll see the most benefit by promoting them with a little proactive communication. Let customers know they can use their channel of choice to get in touch with you. And as you create new self-service options, send a promotional text to tell people it’s available. Otherwise, no one will use it, and your work was for naught.
For more advice on communicating with customers during the summer months, check out our post on getting utility customer excited about peak energy demand credits. And send any questions to a West Interactive Services expert by calling or texting 800.841.9000.
Take advantage of these tools to raise customer satisfaction through the summer and beyond.