Why Utility Analytics Drive A Quality Customer Experience
Customers depend on their utility service, and they have higher expectations than ever for timely, accurate information from their utility service providers.
In this article, we look at why quality analytics are the foundation for capabilities that enable a better customer experience.
What defines a quality utility customer experience?
- Reliable service with minimized outages.
- Fast restoration when outages do occur.
- Timely, accurate information on restoration, impending outages, and billing issues.
- Personalized information through the channel of a customer’s choice.
- Proactive communication that gives customers key service information with minimal effort.
Utilities provide services that are essential for day-to-day life. An outage can mean anything from missing a crucial work-from-home meeting to losing a refrigerator full of perishable foods. Beyond these costly frustrations, utility outages can also present serious safety concerns for a variety of customers. During a hot summer or freezing winter, a lapse in service can disable air conditioning or heating systems and create real hazards. For customers that rely on powered home medical devices, outages are an even bigger issue.
With the comfort and well-being of their customers at stake, utilities are always striving for more reliable service. Limiting outages when possible is, of course, the more important driver of a positive customer experience.
Outages, however, are simply an operational reality, and even the most robustly managed infrastructure will go down. When it does, the fastest possible service restoration helps minimize the impact on customers.
Utilities realize that although their primary operational priority is limiting outages and resolving them quickly, this challenge is only one piece of the puzzle. Providing customers access to timely, accurate communications on the status of their service when outages do occur is also a crucial foundation for a quality customer experience.
Why Timely, Accurate Communication is the Foundation of a Quality Utility Customer Experience
Clear, accurate, and accessible communication with utility customers prevents them from feeling “in the dark.”
First, in the case of an outage, customers need access to the most reliable possible information on service restoration. This information is critical for planning how they will respond to ameliorate the effects of the service outage. Customers, for instance, may be able to wait out a brief outage during mild weather conditions. But if a lengthy outage is looming in the depth of winter, they may need to begin making plans for using gas-powered space heaters or generators.
Providing accurate ETR (estimated time to restoration) projections can be a real business challenge for utility analytics. ETR estimates need to integrate a variety of data sources, including system-generated estimates, crew-generated updates, forecasted storm paths, and more. See our blog for a deeper dive on crucial ETR data elements.
As we note in our ETR blog, accuracy is essential: even service restored too early can be a source of frustration for customers. If a customer sees that a power outage will last all day, they may begin preparing iced coolers for their refrigerated food, only to feel that their efforts were wasted if power returns just an hour later.
Simply communicating basic facts about service status can offer substantial value to customers. If a customer experiences an outage, some of their first questions will be “does the utility know my service has gone down? Is this outage unique to my house or block, or is the whole region being affected?”
Tools like customer-facing outage maps or proactive text messages can help quickly answer these questions with minimal customer effort, helping a customer feel more secure in their knowledge of the situation. Placing vital information in a format that customers can access via self-service also helps limit costly, time-consuming calls.
Why Utility Customers Benefit from Personalized Communication
Next, crucial communications need to be delivered in a personalized format that fits each customer’s needs. A customer request for service updates via text is more than a matter of convenience. A power outage, for example, may disable regular computer access, making texts to battery-powered mobile devices an essential channel for outage-related communications.
Ultimately, only customers will know the right communication format for their own needs. For a customer who regularly checks e-mail on their mobile device, e-mail-based updates may be a great option. But for a customer who only maintains e-mail access via a desktop computer, e-mail updates may be next to useless during an outage. Personalization is an essential option to enable customers to select the right option for their needs.
The imperative for personalization also extends to communications from the customer. If a customer is logged in to a web portal, they need the ability to report an outage quickly and easily through this interface. The same option also needs to be available via phone-call or text—and the underlying infrastructure needs to quickly associate these outage reports with the correct account and the relevant part of the network, all while carefully filtering for repeat outage reports from the same customer.
All of these capabilities require extensive integration between customer-facing systems and underlying analytics. If an ETR-time is updated, the new projection needs to be automatically associated with all of the customer accounts for the associated circuit . From there, the system needs to provide an update through the preferred communication channels of each relevant customer account. Ideally, these workflows need to be completed in near real-time without sacrificing data integrity.
Utilities also need the ability to quickly analyze what information has been provided to customers. For example, internal dashboards need the capability to alert operators to outages with an impending ETR target that is expiring in the next 45 minutes—or an ETR that has already expired and include the ability to quickly drill down to affected locations to gather more details. These granular, real-time data analysis capabilities help prioritize work to restore service as soon as possible (and keep customers updated along the way).
Utility Analytics: An Essential Driver for Improved Customer Experience
Analytics directly impact virtually every aspect of the customer experience. This blog has focused on outages because they provide one of the most illustrative scenarios for crucial customer interactions. Even more routine interactions like billing, however, also require careful attention: customers need to be notified if they are late on a payment and their access to service is at risk.
The right analytics framework can not only provide powerful tools like customer-facing outage maps, but even offer predictive insights, like proactively warning customers if a storm path is likely to impact their area.
Unified, well-structured data is a crucial enabler for virtually all of the customer-facing capabilities discussed in this article. HEXstream works with utilities to help their data generate the most possible value for customers. From providing crucial ETR data to decision-makers and crews in the wake of a storm, to integrating with customer care and billing (CC&B) systems to ensure updates are quickly relayed to the relevant customers, our solutions are all built to reflect the growing imperative for a responsive, personalized experience for utility customers.
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