Three Enhancements to Improve Utility Customer Service

October 29, 2019
Author: Chris Oberle

“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” – Mahatma Gandhi

Congress designated the first week of October as National Customer Service Week in 1992. Since then, customer service professionals across the country have celebrated the week and the people that make exceptional service happen. It’s a week full of pizza, soda, gift cards, recognitions and parties. While they’re only celebrated this one week in October, customer service representative and account manager experiences build brand and satisfaction with utility customers all year long. According to our Cogent Syndicated Utility Trusted Brand & Customer Engagement™ study, utility customers who had a customer service experience are significantly more satisfied than those who had no service contact. Every day, utility customer service departments prove how dedicated they are to serving their customers. So, celebration and rewards are definitely in order.

This month seems to be a good time to reflect on utility customer service enhancements that add value to the customer experience. We see three trends that can play a key role in strengthening utility customer service.

  1. Leverage Growing Demand for Digital Experiences
    For the first time, preference for expanded digital service has surpassed 50%. So, half of utility customers are now open to being serviced through digital channels such as mobile apps, text messages and mobile-friendly websites. This digital preference is greater among younger Gen Xers, Millennials and Gen Zers, so it will only continue to grow.
    Beyond customers’ stated preferences, we have data that show digital services beyond traditional websites are increasing customers’ perceptions of service. Utilities that are already providing additional digital services now have a Customer Service Index Score of 799 (on a 1,000-point scale) compared with an overall industry Customer Service Index Score of 784. Recognizing this and the cost efficiencies that digital service can create are some of the reasons Entergy has created a digital platform that has become one of the industry’s most used, especially with mobile interactions such as text alerts. And Tesla just used the recent PG&E public safety power shutoffs to flex its customer service muscle by sending a flash notification to Tesla EV owners reminding them to charge up before the shutoffs began.
  2. Track and Manage Customer Effort
    All customer service managers track first call resolution, average handling time, time on hold, among other metrics daily. Post-transactor surveys provide insights on courtesy, professionalism and other soft skills. These metrics ensure service transactions are of the highest quality. However, while these metrics are important to utilities, utility customers just want easy service transactions. In fact, customer effort (the amount of effort a customer has to put in to resolve his or her service issue) explains 94% of customer satisfaction. So, helping customers find easy solutions to their issues will grow in importance. This is where TECO Peoples Gas and Idaho Power shine, as they post Customer Effort Scores above 780 while the industry average is 729. And both utilities post industry-high service satisfaction scores.

    Being easy to do business with will determine the future of customer satisfaction. Through conducting customer journey work, managing service time to customer expectations and diversifying service channels, Customer Effort Scores will continue to improve. Digital and electronic channels create easier service transactions than phone, so the movement toward digital use will increase Customer Effort and Service Satisfaction scores.

  3. Provide Recommendations During Service Transactions
    Customers are fond of companies that go above and beyond answering questions. Providing ways to improve how customers can obtain greater value from your service increases your brand and value proposition. This is one of the reasons Amazon recommends the next purchase to customers. Utility customer service scoring significantly increases when companies make recommendations. In fact, it is the single most impactful effort you can add to your service routines.
    Recommendations are so appreciated by utility customers, three in four who received a recommendation say they have acted upon that recommendation. A service transaction is the perfect time to connect with customers on a personal basis and provide education on your energy-efficiency, safety, billing, payment, renewable, rate and other enhanced programs. It may surprise you that your seasoned CSRs are already offering advice to customers when warranted. Mentioning LIHEAP (Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program) to customers having a tough time paying heating bills, energy-efficiency programs to those living in older homes, eBills to those on auto-deduction, and additional information during outages are just some of the obvious recommendations CSRs now make to provide value to customers.

    Peoples Gas and ConEdison are among the current leaders of providing recommendations during service transactions. In fact, Peoples Gas rates 8.0 out of 10 on providing recommendations that are “relevant.” And 88% of ConEdison customers have acted on the recommendation that was provided during service. So, this is an area utilities are already very good at and should formalize into standard service routines.

Utilities have and will continue to find new ways to improve customer service, and these three enhancements are important parts of that service paradigm. Please feel free to reach out to anyone on Escalent’s Cogent Syndicated team to discuss these and other service trends that matter to utility customers.

Chris Oberle
Senior Vice President, Energy

Chris Oberle is a senior vice president in our Energy division, with more than 25 years of executive management experience in the energy and financial services sectors. He manages the development and delivery of syndicated studies, custom research, best practices and advisory services. Throughout his career, Chris has earned a reputation as a customer experience thought leader by helping clients improve the way they develop, deliver, engage and satisfy customers with their programs and brands. Chris earned an MBA from Georgetown University and a bachelor’s degree from the University of Southern California. He coaches youth sports and spends time with his kids at USC and UCLA.