A utility customer reads a text message on her phone.

Interactive voice response (IVR) technology is a great tool for utility providers. In fact, this type of system is often underrated. Its name doesn't do it justice. Far from being a voice-only solution, modern IVR can reach people through channels such as text and email.

IVR solutions aren't just there to act as an answering service for your office — though they do fulfill this function, taking mundane tasks away from your employees and enabling them to be more efficient. Today's lineup of IVR technology can enable timely two-way communication with your customers, using a healthy dose of automation to give your team new customer service capabilities.

Customers have their own channel preferences

As a utility, you have to reach your customers quickly to keep them happy. When there's upcoming work that will affect their service, residents want to hear about it. If a service interruption is underway, customers will definitely want information about the status of the situation.

Of course, getting through to your base in a timely manner is complicated by the fact that there are many different ways to reach out to people. Some customers will prefer to hear from you by text, others via a voice call on the phone. Still others will choose email as their preferred method for fast communication.

A modern IVR tool integrates directly with your customer database, ensuring you know how to reach every person in your service area via their channels of choice. This is a quick and efficient victory for customer experience, as people get the updates they want without having to go out of their way.

More call-in capabilities help customers interact

While the "V" in IVR can be deceptive, the "I" can be telling. When your customers call, they can perform plenty of actions without ever requiring live support from an employee. This keeps your team focused on more critical, creative work around the office, all while delivering a smooth experience for your customers.

For example, callers who reach a modern IVR tool can enter their check, credit card or debit card information, paying a bill by phone completely automated. Customers can also request information about their accounts, including their real-time balances due. The fewer steps these inquiries take, the better it is for perception of your services.

How does your IVR tool keep these processes quick and painless? Through automatic caller ID, matching each person with their account information. Rather than having to read information from a paper bill to identify themselves, these callers are recognized at once. If a priority account holder calls, the system can even redirect that call immediately to a live operator.

IVR connects your personnel, too

While a modern IVR tool can enable a whole new level of back-and-forth contact with your customer base, it can also serve to connect your internal team members with one another. This can save considerable time when conditions get hectic, such as during an outage.

In the case of an all-hands situation like a service interruption, the IVR can send out automatic notifications to every staff member, asking for their status or requesting that they come into the office. These staff members can reply directly to the messages, alerting supervisors as to whether they're on their way or unable to assist.

Internal notifications are similar to customer communications: They automate an important outreach process, keeping everyone free to pursue other tasks. In fact, during a fast-paced outage situation, the IVR will likely be automatically and efficiently handling contact with staff and customers, all at once.

Integration with other tech tools provides timely data

As powerful as IVR is, the technology doesn't have to stand alone. As part of a digital ecosystem with an outage management system (OMS), a modern IVR tool can help you manage real-time data about the status of the grid.

When a customer calls in to report an outage, the integration between OMS and IVR snaps into action. Does that person live or work in an area with known issues? If so, the IVR can give relevant information. If not, this new report of a problem can be entered into the OMS, letting office personnel ping the affected infrastructure or dispatch linemen to deal with the issue.

Today's utility providers thrive on data-rich and fully integrated tech environments, with everything from geographic information systems (GIS) to automated metering infrastructure (AMI) allowing teams to coordinate their work more accurately and effectively than ever before.

With such a well-built tech ecosystem in place, customers will notice how quickly you can respond to their concerns — and they'll get updates in real time, on the platform of their choice, through your IVR tool.

Read our success stories to see how other utility providers have made IVR work for them.

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