Counting the cost of supplying exceptional customer service to the utility sector

Topic: Utilities

Improving customer service satisfaction levels is going to be central to the battle for customer loyalty in the future of the utility sector. A key aspect to solving this issue is empowering customers with the knowledge and communication channels to be able to solve their own problems.
However, a secondary consideration here is how to do it at a lower cost when compared to traditional channels like direct mail and agent-based phone calls.
But before we get to that, let’s take a quick look at the benefits of allowing customers to self-serve:

Benefits of self-serve to utility customers

  • Account information more readily available
  • No time waiting on hold
  • Services provided through a channel which suits them
  • 24/7 access in any location
  • It’s what your customers now prefer. 90% of customers expect providers to offer these facilities, and 75% would rather sort out an issue themselves rather than call an agent (source).

Benefits of self-serve to utility providers

  • Lower cost to serve
  • Reduces strain on in-house call centre agents
  • Automates simple to process tasks
  • Makes your customers happier and more likely to stick around.

Comparing the cost of differing communication channels

So we know the benefits – let’s get into a bit more detail about the specific channels and the monetary savings they provide.

Agent-based interactions vs Automated IVR interactions

According to Contact Babel the average cost to businesses for a live agent phone call is £3.87, £3.70 for an agent handled email, and £3 for a live chat session.
In addition, Call Centre Helper found that the average interaction costs £3.64 and that for 3% of providers, their cost per interaction was actually over £10. Compare this to an equivalent cost of 65p for an automated IVR customer interaction.

Direct mail vs SMS

Direct mail is still being used for a variety of customer touchpoints in the utility sector – but let’s look at payment reminders specifically as an example.
If we were to send 10,000 communications through direct mail, this would cost around £5,000 once we consider stationary, admin, and postage. The same campaign would cost £380 through SMS, and could additionally include convenient links to payment platforms.
SMS also has a much better conversion rate than direct mail (10% vs 2.5%) meaning more payments will actually be made.

Looking to the future

Although still in its infancy, RCS is seen by many industries as the next evolution for interactions with customers. Utility providers should be excited about the range of new tools available including chat tools, rich cards, predictive response buttons, and integrated payment facilities.
When using a combination of these tools, it will become much easier to automate more customer touchpoints like complaint resolutions, booking engineers, debt collection, and providing meter readings, all from within the customer’s native messaging app.
RCS is likely to be billed on a message by message basis, or by ‘session’, i.e. all messages within a fixed time frame for a single fee. Now is the time to explore this channel, as providers are keen to gain use cases, so offering great incentives for early adopters. Regardless of when you get started, though, it’s a safe bet to assume that with the range of potential use cases combined with the engagement rate of other text-based digital channels, there’ll be big savings to be had.

What are the next steps?

We’ve worked with a variety of different utility providers to provide more engaging and cost-effective customer service solutions.
To find out how SMS and our next generation communication channels can help you contact our team on 0345 356 5758 / [email protected] for more information.

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