By Mark Lewis, Sales Executive, Utilities, Xerox Commercial Business Group

Of the range of topics that customer service executives at utilities companies talked about during CSWeek, keeping up with customer expectations reigned supreme. From work orders to grid outages to service windows, utilities are adapting business processes to meet customers’ ever-increasing needs. Two specific challenges caught our attention: omni-channel engagement and customer acceptance of electronic billing.

Satisfaction is omni-channel

Mark Lewis and Bryan Phillips

Mark Lewis, utilities industry expert and Bryan Phillips, customer care consultant extraordinaire, showcased Xerox Services in the booth at CSWeek.

Today’s customers demand more than phone support. In fact, many of them not only prefer self-service channels via Web or mobile, but they are more satisfied when they use them according to this blog post on Forrester’s Top Trends for Customer Service in 2016.

At CS Week, utilities executives and managers who spoke with us, or presented in the informational sessions, were clear that interacting via other channels like live chat, social media, apps or SMS is not as easy as it would seem. For utilities that maintain their own call centers, it’s tough enough to hire, train and retain the best people, or to select and acquire the right technologies and integrate them with the processes that tie everything together effectively.

And perhaps worse than not offering multi-channel alternatives is poorly implemented options.  A bad website or insufficient live chat implementation just sends customers packing to the call center anyway – only more frustrated than when they began. Utilities that have only procured tools in the past will have a tough path to meeting customer engagement expectations of the future.

In other consumer segments, companies with many more customers than utilities — and with stellar customer satisfaction reputations — have found it necessary to lean on expert partners to get the omni-channel experience right.  And yet only a small handful of utilities with more than 5 million customers have outsourced or partnered extensively.

Xerox works with many companies on customer care, and we have developed the tools and the best-in-class processes to achieve the highest levels of customer satisfaction. Why not use the same capabilities we developed for much larger consumer companies to take care of valued utilities customers?

Breakthrough stalled eAdoption

We also asked executives and managers a key question: What portion of your customers receive eBills instead of paper? Without exception, they all answered in the 25-to-30 percent range. They acknowledged that their efforts to move customers from paper to electronic bills are stalling. So why is it that consumer industries do far better than utilities in eAdoption?

Well, in all fairness, utilities don’t get to choose their customers. You have to meet certain criteria to have a plan with your cell phone provider – and you end up with a cell phone which could receive an electronic bill.  And utilities are very highly regulated (but so are some these other segments to various degrees).  So does that let utilities off the hook?

Before we throw up our hands in defeat, let’s look at the reasons that people give when they are dragging their feet to accept an electronic bill.

According to Madison Advisors’ Multi-Channel Market Study, eDelivery adoption is stalling because of security and privacy concerns, lack of offline availability to statements, and time consuming requirements for multiple step logins.

Do you have a way of PUSHING the bill to them in a SECURE manner where they can access it at any time when they are OFFLINE?  Take this survey to see how your billing stacks up: Xerox Billing Benchmark

Flexibility is paramount

Utility companies are used to being highly regulated, and … well … doing things the way they’ve always been done. They are also used to having to stay highly efficient to keep up with compliance requirements and customer needs. But they are on the cusp of breaking out from what they’re “used to doing” and that’s an exciting prospect!

Our key takeaway from the show is that these companies are ready to implement change – integrate technology, automate processes and link back office and front office operations. While it may be tempting to invent solutions in-house, working with the right partner can accelerate progress on the path to boosting customer engagement via new channels, and making e-billing more user-friendly. These are just a few of the ways utilities can capture new opportunities to engage with customers and communicate their value.