Author: Claire Lynam, Marketing Manager, Eckoh
The extreme energy industry disruption over the past year has covered regulatory demands to fast track digital transformation projects, improve customer services and meet consumers' demands for more digital engagement. While the general move to cloud-based technology enables these projects to be accomplished faster, it also brings with it the need for more robust security of service, operations, supply and data and those that use them.
Today, the focus is on three technology trends in the utility industry:
1) Customer experience: The increase in customers choosing online or self-service channels has resulted in utilities rethinking their digital strategy. Utility companies are seeking more efficient ways to enable customers to submit meter readings, pay bills, get updates on power cuts, change tariffs or just ask for support on any channel. There’s also a desire to make these channels work together to support customer preferences by taking an omnichannel approach to customer service that sees digital channels sitting alongside human contact to ensure that no customer is disadvantaged and customer churn is reduced.
2) Cloud solutions: Increasingly, utilities are adopting a mix of on-premise, home-based and mobile staff. Moving systems and solutions to the cloud means you can scale and adapt at speed, increase agility, streamline operations and reduce costs. It can also help improve communication with clients and field workers.
3)Information and cyber security: With greater digitalisation comes added risk – of fraud or data breaches. Protecting customer personal and payment data, authenticating customer identities and enabling secure payments through any channel are vital to maintaining compliance to GDPR, PCI DSS, industry regulations and building customer trust.
Digital transformation in these areas will strengthen and deepen digital relationships with customers to provide greater resiliency to market, industry and global pressures.
So, let's look at how utilities are transforming their businesses for operational resilience, richer customer experiences, improving payment data security and providing the ultimate customer service.
Being prepared for the worst
By the end of 2026, it's estimated that 30% of Tier 1 utilities will reposition their IT from ‘built to last’ to ‘built for change’1. Building resiliency into utility company operations is already becoming a regulatory mandate and providing the much-needed push forwards rather than just ‘bouncing back’ to what was done before the pandemic. Replacing old ways of working and embracing digital transformation technologies create effective new ways to reach and connect to markets, employees and customers, anywhere, at any time.
The right degree of digitalisation in critical customer and workforce engagement functions will mean energy companies can maintain full customer service in almost any situation. It also means they can work effectively with a mix of home, mobile and office-based staff, and ensure security and compliance are maintained.
"Over the longer term, power and utility companies that most effectively build on the momentum of these forced transformations will succeed" - according to PwC
Delivering customer service more efficiently
Utility Week recently reported a surge in customer contact from utility customers during the pandemic. Companies that had a range of contact channels in place were able to reduce pressure on their contact centre by prioritising phone contact for those most in need. Other customers were encouraged to use digital and self-service channels such as IVRs, messaging, apps, chatbots and social media.
For many customers who wanted to save time, self-service has now become their preferred channel. For others who were having trouble paying bills, self-service channels provided a reassuringly anonymous way for them to find help and advice or make payments.
Sometimes however, customers just need to speak to a person. For utility companies, customers have tended to turn to human contact when there’s a power outage, if they are vulnerable, when they are concerned about managing increased fuel use or worried about their ability to pay. These issues are deeply personal and require specific responses2. At these times, channels like phone, chat, email or text can offer a lifeline — and so human contact must remain part of good customerexperience for utilities.
Maintaining payment data security and compliance
Remote working is here to stay, most likely as part of a hybrid working model. It’s expected that by the end of 2022, more than 20% of utilities will have permanently changed most employees’ primary work locations, using a mix of home, field and office, addressing the issue of continued security and compliance, regardless of where staff work, becomes more important.
Short-term fixes to plug security gaps may have been the initial response to the pandemic lockdown, but today, utility industry trends show companies are looking seriously at long term sustainable measures to protect data as a large proportion of their workforce stays at home. As a result, utilities are now moving away from on-premise contact centre technology – doing away with hardware and static phone systems – and moving their systems to the Cloud. Not only is this cheaper to run, but it’s more agile and flexible to accommodate the new hybrid way of working.
A word of warning however, before going all-in to the Cloud, contact centres should gauge the maturity of their customer service operations and factor in employee preferences. They should also check their data compliance responsibilities before assuming their Cloud provider will cover them. Cloud providers may claim their systems are PCI DSS and GDPR data security compliant, but it’s ultimately down to how your Cloud instances are configured as to whether it will block sensitive data entering your organisation. A simple change in an IVR payment flow for instance, could allow payment data to start flooding into your organisation if access controls and permissions are not set up correctly. And if breached, your organisation is 100% liable.
Providing richer customer experience
Customer trust in utility suppliers is running high currently1 but they still expect more from their provider than just the supply at a fair price. So, there is an opportunity to deepen your relationships in ways that will win approval from customers.
Changes in customer behaviour are continuous but the enforced changes of the last year, such as greater engagement via digital channels, are here to stay.
Ultimately the customer wants to get information, submit meter readings, pay bills, buy products or services update accounts or have more detailed discussions. Energy companies that let customers take charge of their account, fulfilling their goals in their channels of choice and switching seamlessly from one channel to another, will be the ones who succeed.
Seizing the moment
The move to greater digital engagement, through cloud-based technology, will allow utility companies to become more resilient and take their businesses to the next level. Increasingly, skilled customer service staff based anywhere will work alongside digital channels to create a connected and seamless engagement for customers and bring greater agility to any business.
Eckoh is a global provider of Secure Payment and Customer Engagement solutions via our Eckoh Experience Portal. We’ve an international client base and offices in the UK and US. We're providers in transforming contact centre operations by delivering customer experiences across every channel, boosting agent productivity, reducing operations costs and maximising payment security. We’ve over 20 years’ experience in contact centre technology solutions. Eckoh has been a PCI DSS Level One Service Provider since 2010.
Published: Monday, July 12, 2021
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