Blog / 24th May 2018

IMImobile’s Ben Badger, Account Director of Utilities, shares his key takeaways from the CX Utilities Forum. The event, hosted and organised by IQPC, brought together the CX community to discuss the status quo of the industry in 2018.

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The utility industry is under public, regulatory and consumer pressure to improve how it addresses its customer-experience related challenges. The transition from a government-owned industry centered around operational challenges to one that’s focused on customers in a highly regulated and competitive market, has taken its toll.

The increasing number of price comparison and ‘switching’ websites, allowing customers to compare the prices of suppliers is putting significant pressure on utility providers as they seek to both maintain and grow their customer bases. On top of this, customers now expect a higher level of customer service, based on experiences created by other industries or digital first organisations.

After spending the day connecting with CX and customer service professionals from various utility providers and hosting a series of roundtable discussions I wanted to share my key takeaways from the event:

Digital CX Transformation means survival

Put simply, the overarching question we sought to answer was “What does Digital CX transformation mean for utility providers?

For one of the UK’s largest energy providers, Digital CX Transformation simply means survival. Survival against not only their traditional competitors, but also the latest wave of digital disruptors who are entering the market.

It’s well understood that customer experience is becoming a key differentiator, and that improvements to experience are linked with higher customer retention, spend and advocacy. With the experience race intensifying, there was genuine concern palpable of standing still, an inability to react to the latest trends and technologies, and the need to meet the expectations of today’s digital consumer.

There was general agreement that the so-called ‘digital unicorns’ should serve as a CX benchmark – after all they are delivering exactly what today’s highly demanding consumer wants. But despite these lofty experience ambitions, an equal number of those I spoke to expressed frustration to not being able to innovate quickly and accelerate the launch of new digital products to challenge them. The reasons for this were divided between organisational challenges such as culture, operational process and technical, such as a dependency on legacy systems.

All of the delegates at the event were advocates for digital change and had the customer at the heart of this. Some suggestions for how this was materialising was by being able to bundle different products and services, enabling customer choice, as well as having the ability to tailor products and tariffs at the individual customer level, or as some put it becoming ‘retail ready’ So what’s standing in their way?

Legacy is still the biggest barrier 

Digital CX Transformation means that systems, processes and customer demands are all intrinsically linked. To provide an excellent customer journey means providing an efficient agent toolkit so that the back office and front office come together to create a single customer view and a unified experience.

Overcoming legacy systems was still stressed as the biggest barrier to delivering Digital CX Transformation. Without being able overcome siloes and bridge systems, everyone admitted that it would be impossible to create a single view of their customer interactions, orchestrate customer journeys across the business, or to move quickly enough to react to customers in real-time.

Thus, there seems to be a general need for an orchestration layer, where system integrations, digital channel communications and processes can be centralised. Using this unified approach, utility providers will be able to map customer journeys and intelligently automate business processes in order to drive digital conversations with their customers. Not only will this help improve and better manage their digital experience, but help prevent another common pitfall that was raised – investing resources on new features and projects that don’t deliver the value they expect.

Choose how and where you invest in Chatbots carefully

Utility providers understand that consumers want to access services across a number of digital channels, with WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, iMessage and RCS looking like the future. It’s a trend being driven forward by not only consumer obsession with messaging, but also the likes of Amazon and Google, who are now championing conversational commerce in the connected home.

With conversational messaging growing to become the forefront of customer interaction, many delegates wanted to talk about the potential of chatbots. One use case that some were already experimenting with, was the use of chatbots to automate an increasing number of customer service inquiries. To summarise, a chatbot can be deployed to answer FAQ’s or perform specific high volume low-value tasks such as resetting account passwords, ID&V or booking an engineer appointment.

There was general agreement amongst those at CX Utilities that chatbots hold great potential for reducing cost, enabling self-service and improving customer service related experiences. However, despite the enthusiasm, there was a general wariness of deploying chatbots at scale and the need to ensure they worked seamlessly with existing journeys and customer service teams. Talking about the lessons learned from other industries, there was a consensus that building chatbots in siloes, not linked to an overarching strategy, will just create further complexity and risk a poor chatbot experience alienating customers.

Are AI voice-assistants in the home going to become more relevant?

Every utility provider and CX professional at the event acknowledged that they need to provide choice and adapt to the changing preferences of the customers they serve and the term onmichannel was clearly already deeply embedded in all the delegates digital strategy. The only difference was the maturity of each organization in enabling these to serve its customers.

An interesting discussion was how utility providers could potentially harness AI home assistants. Channels like Amazon Alexa and Google Home could play a big part of CX strategies in the future. One UK water provider was particularly keen to invest, mentioning that Alexa will be 40% homes within the next 2 years.

Voice-based interfaces and interactions in the home remain relatively new, but in a similar way to how SMS is evolving into Rich Communication Service, voice could evolve to become a channel for delivering personalised engagement and services straight to customer front rooms.

If we missed connecting at the event…

I thoroughly enjoyed my time at UX Utilities which gave me the opportunity to listen to many CX professionals from the utility sector and discuss how to solve some of the challenges the industry faces. If you didn’t attend this year, I’d make sure it’s on your calendar for next.

If I missed you at the event and would like to talk about how IMImobile are helping utility providers drive their Digital CX Transformation strategy, please contact me via email at ben.badger@imimobile.com or add me on LinkedIn here.

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