Smart Grid is causing a revolution in the way energy utilities provide service.  With the rollout of Smart Grids picking up pace over the next few years, there will be more consumers needing more information which almost always equates to more budget needed for customer care.  While data management costs will increase, there is an innovative technology available to energy utility companies to proactively cut costs for customer care over the course of Smart Grid rollouts: outbound Interactive Voice Response (IVR) technology also referred to as automated proactive notifications.

From a technology perspective, utilities have been lobbing outbound calls to consumers for years using predictive dialers to connect live agents with callers once they answer the phone. However, live agents are expensive – costing utilities on average $3.59 per inbound call or well over $6 per outbound call, according to Benchmark Portal’s 2010 research.  Considering that an automated outbound call generally costs well below a $1.00 per notification, that’s a pretty significant cost savings opportunity!

Automated outbound notifications go a step beyond the telemarketing or predictive dialer calls of the past to proactively deliver content that is relevant and useful to a specific customer. As a result, they enable utilities to enhance customer relationships, while reducing both the cost of customer outreach and customer care solutions.

Imagine the following scenario: it is time to install a Smart Meter. Start with an automated appointment reminder to make sure the consumer is home on the day and time of the new meter installation.  If the customer reports that they will not be home at their scheduled time, updating internal systems with that information will save costs for truck rolls for missed appointments. However, to really increase the value of the notification, offer the customer an interactive and wholly automated option to re-schedule on a more suitable date and time.  Not only are you saving costs for a separate outbound call to reschedule or a customer-driven inbound call to pick a new time, but you have just transformed the experience a customer has had with their utility into something truly useful for both parties.

The real win is in anticipating why consumers will call and reaching out to them first with relevant information. This means moving from a one-way communication strategy – accepting and managing customer complaints and inquiries as they come in – to a two-way communication strategy.  Extend our scenario to a few weeks later, when a customer is going to receive their first bill on the Smart Meter.  You now have an opportunity to transform the traditional collections call to something the consumer may appreciate: provide an outbound notification via email alerting them to ways to save on their bill with pay now options. The utility has now changed its perception as a collections machine to a helpful service provider.

While phone calls are the traditional channel for utility/consumer communications, email and SMS via a mobile phone are increasingly effective channels given the adoption of mobile phones by Americans is over 91% according to the CTIA Wireless Industry Survey.  Multichannel communications will continue to enhance perception of the utilities and effectiveness of the notifications. Imagine sending this simple alert via SMS to your consumers: “Your peak-hour energy rate for December 15 is from 1pm to 7pm.  Save money by using high-consuming devices during off-peak hours.”

Additionally, there is a great opportunity to engage consumers during the Smart Grid education and rollout phases by offering them the ability to opt in to receive proactive notifications how and when they want them.  Giving consumers active control educates them but also provides a mechanism to avoid customer complaints about unwanted or insufficient communications. Forrester and Harris Interactive have conducted surveys on consumer perception of automated proactive notifications and the results are compelling – consumers like or love many notifications that they consider personal, relevant and timely.

In sum, there is a huge opportunity for energy utilities to not only cut costs but improve customer satisfaction by investing in an outbound customer care strategy.

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About Andrea Mocherman

This was a contributed post by Andrea Mocherman. To see more content like this, visit the Customer experience section of our blog.