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How can utilities companies effectively automate the customer experience?

Updated: November 07, 2023
How can utilities companies effectively automate the customer experience?
How can utilities companies effectively automate the customer experience?

Utility companies have a demanding job. They deliver essential services to millions of people – every single day. Any disruption to services is a crisis. Even for the best companies, customers provide a constant stream of questions and requests. 

Burdened by these demands, innovation can be difficult. As Forbes put it, “most utilities still find it challenging to better connect to their customer base and keep costs low.” Onboarding complex new tech is secondary to simply getting the job done, day in day out. 

However, the reality is that – as in every other industry – consumer expectations have evolved. Today, utility customers want better support, faster…and usually without having to pick up the phone.

Shouldering the challenge of running complex, decentralized operations servicing millions of individuals, how can utilities companies deliver superior customer support – in a way that is tech-enabled, and financially viable? By striking the right balance of AI and human support. 

Related must read: Customer experience vs. customer service

Utility customers want answers yesterday

The modern customer is impatient. 83% of utility customers expect immediate interaction with a company representative at the point of contact. Unless you want to endlessly scale large call centers, this is near impossible to provide. 

In addition, 82% of utilities customers say they expect one support representative to deliver quick solutions to complex concerns and problems. Again, this can be tough; many organizations are burdened by legacy systems, phone trees, several tiers of agents and multiple lines of communication. 

At the core of the challenge is that utility companies typically deal with a range of different enquiries, and none of them are the same. Each time a customer makes contact, they might be seeking to pay their bill. But they may be seeking to register a new connection, move their service, get usage stats, find a nearby payment location, get a meter – or a number of other things. It can be hard to predict what is coming in, or where to apportion live agents.

As a result, people get stuck on hold, or bounced around different departments, or stuck using scripted chatbots that aren’t smart enough to help. 

As a result, while consumers can easily perform basic digital functions like reviewing their account information and making payments, the J.D. Power 2021 Utility Digital Experience Study reported that utilities struggle to support customers when it comes to complex digital interactions. Nearly 50% of consumers say they find it difficult to find the information they are looking for online.

To deal with complex requests, companies need new tools.

Automating customer experience (CX): The waste connections story

Here’s a real world story of how one utility leveraged AI to drastically uplevel their customer experience. 

Waste Connections is one of the biggest solid waste utility services providers in North America, operating across 43 states in the US and six provinces in Canada. Waste Connections specializes in the transfer, recycling and disposal of solid waste as well as recycling and resource recovery.  

Catering to more than seven million residential, commercial and industrial customers, Waste Connections contact support centers receive an estimated 50,000 calls a day. As their business expanded and their customer base increased, the volume of support calls grew as well.

Waste Connections needed to scale their customer support model fast to prevent customer churn and avoid backlash from government agencies. Turning to Yellow.ai, Waste Connection was able to create and deploy Trina, a dynamic AI agent as an intelligent first-line customer support assistant.

The result? Waste Connections now saves $250k a month while serving more than 285k customers a month. This is what happens when customer service departments deploy both human and AI skills, and effectively divide and conquer.

The power of dynamic AI agents

Waste Connections was able to succeed because, here at Yellow.ai, we have built the next generation of AI assistants. These are not the simple, scripted and frustrating chatbots of yesteryear. These are intelligent and ever-evolving software agents who can handle most routine issues, and relieve pressure on human agents.

Yellow.ai’s automation-first, human-assisted approach helped Waste Connections accelerate customer support journeys, over both text and voice channels. Through the deployment of highly trained, dynamic AI agents at the first point of contact, customers are seamlessly guided to the appropriate resolution for their questions, including scheduling, payment, billing, complaints, and more. This approach speeds up time-to-resolution, and produces a 80% self-service success rate.

“Yellow.ai takes care of a lot of those basic questions at the moment and it’s going to evolve to a point where it can take care of the more difficult ones,” says Eric Hansen, chief information officer at Waste Connections.

For complex requests that require human expertise, Yellow.ai’s dynamic AI agents seamlessly transfer customers to the most qualified live agents. As part of the  transfer, the AI agent informs the agent of the customer’s situation and concerns, ensuring seamless transition and no “can you repeat that information” frustrations.. 

“Yellow.ai frees up our customer service reps just enough so they can take a little longer with those tougher questions,” continued Eric Hansen.

All these help build moments of trust for customers, further elevating their experience and satisfaction. And as the triage process occurs, our dynamic AI bots gather all the data and proceed to learn from every encounter. This learning functionality allows our dynamic AI agents to become more responsive to similar support requests in the future.

New customer needs – new technology

Utility consumers expect customer support from their providers to be better than it was a few years back. By better meeting consumer needs — on their preferred communication channel, in their preferred language and at the time they choose — utilities are able to deliver delightful customer journeys and strengthen customer trust. 

Yellow.ai’s dynamic AI agents help utilities to meet these increased customer expectations while driving efficiency, boosting agent satisfaction and driving down costs. It’s a win-win-win.

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