Must do better.
Over the last couple of articles, I’ve been looking at Customer Experience (CX) within the utilities sector. After reading the BBC’s recent report that Ofgem has ordered eleven of the UK's biggest suppliers to improve how they deal with complaints, it seems there’s still room for improvement.Four of the companies in question have had "compliance cases" opened against them over how they handle their customer’s complaints. The remaining seven have been asked to improve their procedures.
Despite the news Lawrence Slade, Chief Executive of Energy UK, said suppliers' overall performance in dealing with consumer problems is improving. Slade points to Ofgem’s figures which show a decrease of nearly 50% in the total number of complaints received over the past four years to validate his point.
Among the suppliers whose apparent poor customer complaint processes have left them subject to a compliance case are First Utility, Ovo Energy and Utilita.
During the compliance process, Ofgem will work alongside energy suppliers to identify and implement improvements. If this proves unsuccessful, Ofgem can open an enforcement case, which could result in a fine.
This is a long-running and much-reported on problem within the sector, further highlighted by Ofgem’s request of British Gas, Npower, Utility Warehouse, SSE, EDF Energy, E.On and Co-operative Energy to improve how they deal with complaints.
Dermot Nolan, chief executive of Ofgem, said: "Although the level of satisfaction about complaint handling has increased over the past two years, it is still unacceptably low.”
So what is the real reason for this consistently high level of dissatisfaction? Are expectations too high?
My personal view is that many people get great customer service in nearly every aspect of their lives. Once you experience outstanding service, average service can start to feel like bad service. One of the most significant reasons for the prominence of excellent CX is technology. Connected devices, automation and artificial intelligence (AI) all enable a company to better customise their service to a customers’ needs.
Experts predict that by 2020, 85% of all customer service interactions will be handled without the need for human involvement. However as mentioned in my previous article, when developing an omnichannel customer experience it’s crucial that companies conduct user-research to better anticipate changes in customer expectations, invest in their people, and adjust their tech-strategy in accordance with findings.
As the host of the Talking Utilities Podcast I’ve spoken with leaders from a lot of different utility companies. Below I’ll share a few examples of what they’ll be implementing over the coming years as part of their efforts to help customers.
Automating simpler tasks.
Something I will never forget is my time as an Energy Consultant. Working in a call centre in a Newcastle industrial estate, myself and my frontline colleagues often felt burdened with simple, repetitive tasks which stole time that could have been used to effectively service customers, speak to providers or work towards hitting our monthly target. The minutiae of tagging emails, responding to basic queries and forwarding calls all cost time and sap momentum. Thankfully, I believe it’s only a matter of time before we will see proper machine learning optimising how simple tasks are handled.From self-service chatbots to autofiling emails, there will be fewer people hours used on basic tasks, freeing up employees and enabling them to focus on higher level interactions that contribute to areas such as customer satisfaction, retention and improving brand loyalty in a sector where it’s practically non-existent.
More time for what matters.
Just imagine if a team suddenly recovered 30-40% of their work-time. They’d not only be less stressed and more satisfied with their day-to-day, but they could also use that time for critical thinking and dealing with complex customer interactions more effectively.
In addition to this, companies could take the opportunity to develop their employee’s skills, increasing creativity and empowering them with the knowledge needed to begin supporting new messaging channels. Team members could also be further engaged with areas such as problem-solving and perhaps even up-selling, all while an AI takes care of the more mundane tasks.
Becoming more social
In a previous post I said that your customers are more connected than before. Consumers expect an immediate response to their complaints, and when they don’t get one they post immediately to social media or complain directly via messaging apps. Social media is both a gift and a curse. Your most evangelical fans can always be matched by the noise of both your most discontented and former customers. Audiences air both praise and problems for all to see.
The barriers to entry for making complaints will continue to lower in line with the evolution in the functionality of social media. Ten years ago, brands wouldn’t even consider handling complaints through Instagram, for instance. Today, ignoring these channels comes with substantial risk to reputation and customer satisfaction. The better connected we are, the more touch-points we have. In turn, this places greater strain on the teams responsible for such channels. Accordingly, getting your communications strategy sorted out is going to be a critical factor in your future success.
In many of the conversations I have remains a healthy level of cynicism towards a meaningful implementation of Artificial Intelligence. People with the remit to make such an implementation still think of automations that are rooted in managing workflows, re-routing messages using rules-based engines and providing FAQ responses. The major revolution now is in the adoption of far more practical machine learning and AI tools. More companies are seeing beyond the buzzwords and implementing genuinely artificially intelligent solutions. Airhelp is one such example, having created a business that removes the stress and effort required to claim a refund for delayed or cancelled flights.
The thinking behind the quest of executives and CEOs to identify valuable applications of AI in their business is clear, and customer service departments are an obvious place to start due to an abundance of historical data that can be used to train algorithms and create a clear ROI hypothesis. I do think we need to see more relevant success stories before this becomes commonplace, but once we do, expect to see widespread adoption.
By automating repetitive tasks and taking over monotonous work, AI enables your customer service teams to accentuate their value to customers, learn new skills and bring more to your company. AI will be to CX specialists what the Microsoft Excel was to accountancy firms. What seems futuristic now is not far away from becoming a staple tool in companies from all over the world.
What do you think? Do you see AI as a worthwhile investment for your contact centre? Or is this just another fad that will come and go?