Customers prefer self-service strategies over more traditional support methods.

Organizations across all industries have cultivated and maintained relationships with customers in person and over the phone for decades. However, the emergence of cutting-edge digital communication technology is changing this paradigm, facilitating the development of the self-service model. This setup allows patrons to get help whenever they need it without visiting a storefront or picking up the phone. More than one-third of customers now prefer self-service methods, according to research from omnichannel customer support form inContact. This figure is likely to rise as technology improves and best practices further crystallize. In fact, many firms are making the move to self-service this year, investing considerable sums in the infrastructure needed to facilitate such an approach, analysts at Forrester Research found.

This strategy presents new opportunities for utility companies, especially during outage events when customer contact volumes increase significantly. How exactly can power providers actually join the self-service bandwagon? There are essentially three adoption channels: interactive voice response, mobile and web.

Interactive voice response
IVR systems are essentially ubiquitous these days. However, despite their popularity, some power providers purposely avoid them in an effort to maintain traditional customer service tactics. This is an admirable decision. While modern technology enables speedier interactions, it also transforms every business-to-patron communication into a transaction-based back-and-forth. That said, old-school customer service methods are not so effective in emergency situations, when the dispersal of information supersedes the desire for a personable interaction. In these moments, mass communication conduits like an IVR system work best.

Utilities with these solutions in place can handle larger call volumes without staffing up, as IVR platforms reroute callers to an automated line that uses their phone numbers to automatically mine outage management systems for applicable information. Additionally, with an IVR solution, power company employees can configure power restoration notifications that go out to customers via phone or text. This too takes pressure off dispatchers, resolving hundreds or possibly thousands of calls with the push of a button. On top of that, utilities can leverage IVR technology to contact employees in the event that extra workers are needed.

"More than one-third of customers now prefer self-service methods."

Overall, these capabilities bolster customer service at the moment of highest need, while lumping few demands on utility staff. This makes IVR systems essential tools for power providers embracing self-service strategies.

An estimated 77 percent of American adults own a smartphone, according to data from the Pew Research Center. And, more than half of those individuals between the ages of 18 and 29 live in homes with two or more of these devices. In short: Smartphones buttress the modern communication mainframe. Of course, this reliance on smartphone technology translates directly to the customer service arena, as more than 75 percent of patrons prefer mobile support portals over telephonic methods, Forrester discovered.

How can utilities meet this expectation? Customer-facing mobile applications. Roughly 20 percent of power providers offer them at the moment, according to Statista. These companies are seeing serious benefits. For example, in outage situations, utilities can send out push notifications to customers to keep them updated as crews repair essential service structures. Patrons can manage their accounts and reach out to utility representatives using mobile support portals at any time. Again, this reduces dispatcher workloads and leads to more positive customer service outcomes. Additionally, when power companies pair these applications with backend equivalents for managers and crew members, business-to-customer connectivity improves – and operations do as well.

The internet is essential these days. That is why nearly 90 percent of American adults regularly use it, according to Pew Research Center. This user volume makes it an ideal customer service channel.  Of course, most enterprises are well aware of this fact and offer fairly robust communication options via their online portals, which pleases patrons, 70 percent of whom expect businesses to provide web-based self-service applications, Fast Company found.

Utility companies with lacking online footprints would be wise to adopt this model and incorporate contact or instant messaging features into their web pages. These relatively easy-to-install components could streamline customer service efforts and take further pressure off of utility employees in charge of answering phones.

With these channels in place, power providers can empower their customers and reduce the operational burden that comes along with traditional support strategies. Here at DataVoice International, we have helped many utilities make such moves. Our weather-tested IVR and mobile solutions are perfect for the self-service approach. Additionally, these tools integrate with our world-class outage management system, giving adopters the power to roll out complete software ecosystems designed to bolster the customer experience. Connect with us today to learn more about our growing product line and about how our offerings can move your utility forward. 


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