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COMMENTARY | Utility companies often suffer from poor customer service ratings. Here’s a way to fix that.
Utilities have frequently been criticized for poor customer satisfaction. People complain of issues with paying their bills, technicians showing up late and bad customer service. While low cost and reliability are two main focuses of utility companies such as power and gas, it’s time to make the overall consumer experience better as well.
Municipally owned and rural utility companies, in particular, must improve customer satisfaction to stay competitive in the low-margin market.
Here are three tips for boosting services and enhancing customer satisfaction.
1. Provide online billing.
Customers today expect a certain level of service and digital savvy from the companies they do business with. This includes offering online billing and the option to pay with a credit card or through a bank transaction.
Nowadays, you can buy almost anything on the internet, and utilities shouldn't be an exception. In addition to offering digital billing, utilities could expand payment options even further by making websites compatible with Google Pay or Apple Wallet.
New York’s Central Hudson Gas & Electric's self-service portal is a great example of this. The portal allows customers to make payments and keep track of their accounts online or via their CenHub app. In the portal’s first year, payments increased by 12%, and the mobile app downloads reached 25%.
It is easier for consumers to pay when these options are available. It also improves their experience, resulting in better overall utility services.
2. Make customer service agents easily accessible.
A team of customer service representatives is key to a successful utility service provider. While "robotic" phone operators and touch-tone systems work in many situations, real representatives are still essential in resolving more complicated issues.
Your company's phone line must be able to connect customers with a real person. One way to ensure the best customer care service is to partner with a phone answering service. This results in better and more effective communication with customers.
Some qualities to look for are services that:
● Sort calls by urgent vs. nonurgent;
● Offer several notifying options, including sending a text or email or calling a technician;
● Use a human agent that identifies your company’s name on calls, follows your directions, engages your callers and conducts the conversation per a script;
● Shorten reply duration;
● And offer real-time call answering 24 hours a day.
If you use this kind of service, your callers will never have to experience the frustration of trying to report a problem or being unable to reach a live person. Making it easy for consumers to contact your service shows that you care about them.
3. Send customer reminders.
The most common cause of customer frustration is when there is a late or missed service appointment. People are busy, and the typical four-hour window to get their cable set up or to activate their gas line can be frustrating.
You can lose business if service technicians don't show up on time or miss their appointments. This will also lead to a dissatisfied customer base. You must arrange your technicians' shifts in a way that is efficient and practical.
Advanced messaging systems help remind customers of scheduled appointments and update them on estimated arrival times.
You can also put the onus on your employee. PG&E did this through a mobile app that allowed employees in the field to access customer information so that they could contact them directly if they were running late, among other things. This allowed them to help customers more efficiently.
The bottom line is that your utility company can see a dramatic increase in customer satisfaction by taking three essential steps: streamlining communication, technician appointments and bill payments. These actions will help your business improve utility service and help you become a more efficient and competitive utility company.
Jo-Ann Fussell is the CFO and owner/operator of Voice Link, a virtual receptionist company providing the highest quality live answering, order entry, and customer service center services. Fussell has 31 years' experience in finance and information technology and is a Magna Cum Laude graduate of Columbus State University, licensed CPA, Certified Key Performance Indicator Professional, and a mother of two Eagle Scouts.
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