Utilities have been historically slower to adapt to technological advancements when compared to other industries. This trend continues as others embrace conversational platforms and the Artificial Intelligence that operates via voice commands such as Amazon’s Alexa or Google Assistant.
Conversational platforms are the newest adaptive hurdle for the utilities industry to jump, and they have the potential to deliver both efficiency and better overall customer experience.
For example, chatbots could be used to answer simple questions, provide customers with product and marketing information about energy efficiency programs, and potentially be a better tool for engaging customers before they need to speak with a representative.
Consider this example: a Customer Service Representative receives a customer question and must quickly gather and process information across numerous screens and technologies to provide a timely response. A chatbot with access to backend systems could quickly and easily sift through huge quantities of information and complete this task more efficiently. A chatbot may not be able to answer every customer question, but it can free up time for CSRs to respond to more complex requests.
Voice commands are one of the main features of conversational platforms. In utilities, this can be implemented for numerous simple and straightforward questions or tasks, and eventually be built up to fulfill more complex needs. Voice activation could:
- Help monitor and control home equipment
- Adjust thermostats and air conditioning, turn appliances on or off
- Automatically adjust the loads based on Time-of-Use pricing windows
- Automatically adjust renewable-energy generation to contribute towards critical peaks during hot summer days
- Connect conversational platform devices
- 24/7 access to automated assistance from a local utility to eliminate time restraints
- Answering simple questions about account status or when bills are due
- Meeting more complex needs such as submitting meter data or initiating a change of address
- Monitoring energy usage, and which appliances are using the most energy
- Getting ETAs on power-outage restoration in an area
- Getting information about energy efficiency rebate programs.
A number of companies have already successfully integrated Conversational AI into their customer interactions. For example, a major American utility provider with more than 10 million users was experiencing a large customer churn because of difficulties accessing utility account information. The provider worked with a partner to create a channel-agnostic chatbot that allowed customers to ask a variety of questions about their utility information, such as their bills or nearby outages. This not only reduced the customer churn but provided greater insights into the needs of consumers.
Businesses wanting to implement conversational platforms must take many factors into consideration before choosing the right type. The capabilities of the AI should match the needs of the business and its goals for the technology. Some features to consider when choosing a conversational platform include:
- Multiple channel usage
- Industry context
- User-needs mapping with features
- Cost and time of building and maintaining the technology
- Technical compatibility with the overall enterprise architecture strategy
- Exit strategy if the technology is not a good fit.
Technology is constantly advancing, and so are its applications in enterprises. Intelligent conversational interfaces will simplify the interactions between businesses and their devices, services, customers, suppliers, and employees everywhere, as well as enable mobile and IoT apps to interact with enterprise systems via voice commands.
These models will create a direct channel between business users and line-of-business systems without the constraints of a specific mobile user interface. Integration of Conversational Platforms is the link needed to connect apps, tools, and intelligent interfaces, allowing employees in utilities to use their time more productively and deliver excellent customer experiences.
Digital Solutions Lead, NA Energy Practice
North American Utilities Solutions Lead