Utility companies should be preparing for storm season with prediction technology

With storm weather upon us, utilities nationwide are preparing for their heaviest call season. Whether it’s an epic blizzard or a downed power line, worried customers start rallying to their utility providers for information and updates. One innovative Fortune 500 utility company serving the Midwest and Southern U.S. updated their call center with new technology and tools to meet the needs of customers during this especially hectic season. Learn what they did to boost customer satisfaction and decrease the stress on their call center.
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Whether it’s an epic blizzard or a downed power line, worried customers start rallying to their utility providers for information and updates during storm season.

Storm season is here. We’re all familiar with the sometimes terrifying weather the season brings: thunder and lightning, strong winds, and as the temperatures drop – severe snow storms. The eastern seaboard had a near miss with Hurricane Joaquin and as we look ahead to Halloween and Thanksgiving, we’re left wondering what kind of weather winter holds.

No doubt the utilities nationwide are wondering too. This time of year puts pressure on all their systems – including the call center. Whether it’s an epic blizzard or simply a tree knocking out a transformer, when the power goes out, calls from anxious customers come flooding in. One innovative company – a Fortune 500 utility serving the Midwest and Southern U.S. – took a fresh look at the experience they were providing their customers. Their first point of contact was an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system that had received small updates over time, but hadn’t been fully updated for almost 10 years. The complex pushbutton menu – a maze really – was only exasperating their already frustrated and concerned callers. They needed a fresh perspective and a new solution to meet the needs of their modern customers.

The goal was to integrate the backend systems holding customer account data, outage and service information and other key analytics with intuitive self-service capabilities. The result would be an effortless experience. Not only would callers be able to speak naturally and have the intent behind their words understood, the system would be able to anticipate their needs – providing relevant information and prompting action.

The result of this unique combination of predictive analytics and natural language understanding has been hugely successful, and never more impactful than during an outage.

Rapid access to information is critical during a service disruption. To minimize the steps involved in getting to answers, call prediction and authentication were combined into a single, seamless step. Using the incoming phone number to match the caller to an account and an account location allows the system to identify whether there is an outage in their area, before ever saying ‘hello’. Based on the predicted reason for the communication, the caller is greeted with a very personal message: “Hi Anne, I see there’s an outage near [Anne’s address], is that what you’re calling about?” By simply saying ‘yes’ and confirming both their name and their address, the customer authenticates themselves and receives the latest information on when power restoration is expected. If the caller responds ‘no’, they have the opportunity to explain the reason for their call. The system then helps them successfully access information, complete a task, or routes them to an agent with the necessary skills.

The response to the new IVR has been enthusiastic. Most customers had never received such an easy, immediate explanation for when the lights were predicted to come on, even if they successfully reached a live agent. As a result, the company saw 70 percent of callers opt into self-service. The increased focus on creating an anticipatory and effortless customer interaction reduced the burden on their call center staff and boosted satisfaction.

And the benefits extended well beyond storm season, simplifying a caller’s first interaction and serving their needs. Billing questions frequently spark calls from customers and the new, conversational IVR is able to resolve many, even complex issues, without involving an agent. For example, if the power has been disconnected due to non-payment of a bill, the system greets the caller and proactively inquires if they’re calling to make a payment to reinstate their service. Or, if the caller indicates they have a question about their bill and opt to learn more about the charges, the system is able to provide detailed, personalized explanation for that specific bill.

The ability to understand not only the words a caller says but also the intent behind their request, coupled with the ability to predict why customers are reaching out creates a highly intelligent, human-like experience. When you need to get in touch, and especially during the stress of an outage, it’s comforting to know your utility company has your best interest at heart.

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Stefanie Fail

About Stefanie Fail

Stefanie Fail is a Senior UI designer, and has been designing speech recognition systems for Nuance since 2007. In addition to her work as UI Lead and Design Manager for numerous speech projects, she also leads the Nuance Subject-Matter Expert initiative, which establishes the best practices for UI design across the Professional Services organization. Stefanie received the "Above and Beyond in Creativity" Nuance award, out of over 6,000 global Nuance employees, for her work designing innovative proactive notifications within a speech system. She has a Master's degree in Cognitive Psychology and is a Ph.D. Candidate at The New School for Social Research, studying psycholinguistics with a focus on human-computer interaction, computational linguistics and survey research methodology. She lives in Brooklyn and works in Nuance's New York office.