Energy & UtilitiesApp DevelopmentEmerging Tech Prototyping

The Customer and Business Impact of Enabling Next-Level Self-Service in Utilities

Across industries including financial services, telecommunications, and utilities, customer expectations of convenience, speed, and ease have increased the demand for the digitization of customer touchpoints. As these sectors invest in online portals, chatbots, and mobile apps, one crucial customer touchpoint is called into question: the contact center.

The contact center has been an important customer touchpoint since its rise in the 1980s, but satisfaction in contact centers has trended sharply downward since 2016. Heavy reliance on this touchpoint can also impact the bottom line, as the cost per contact via call center is $3.80, compared to $0.01 for digital self-service and $0.07 for voice assistant service (source: WillowTree).

None of this means that the call center will disappear — rather, it means that utility providers have an opportunity to refocus the call center on the high-touch interactions that require human-human contact, and transform digital self-service offerings to support low-touch customer needs.

Advancing digital self-service offerings drives toward positive outcomes for customers, such as higher online engagement, improved CSAT, and improved Customer Effort Scores (CES), as well as outcomes for the business, like higher enrollment in cost-saving programs and increased operational efficiency.

When WillowTree’s client, NiSource, redesigned and launched their online customer portal, they saw outcomes like:

  • 261% increase in validated new account sign ups
  • 104% increase in paperless billing enrollment
  • 98% decrease in payment failures
  • And more!
Read about NiSource’s digital transformation that earned them a Gold Stevie Award in 2020.

The Future of Digital Self-Service

At WillowTree, we believe that the future state of self-service lies with a technology that is undergoing one of the fastest adoption rates in history: voice.

In 2019, ICF surveyed 1,000 new home buyers from 5 utilities in 4 states about their preferences around smart home technology.

When asked about the usefulness of hearing about certain utility-related topics via voice, customers responded as follows:

  • 44% indicated an interest in receiving high bill notifications
  • 39% wanted to hear ways to lower their next bill
  • 36% would like information about their anticipated electric bill
  • 34% wanted to hear a comparison of their usage to similar homes
  • 32% were interested in hearing energy-saving tips
  • 31% were interested in hearing about energy efficiency programs

As technology and CX capabilities of utility providers emerge, this data indicates that many customers could benefit from being able to use their voice for utility self-service.

When most people think of voice technology, they think of talking to a smart speaker like Alexa or Google Home, and the device talking back to them. However, the most efficient use cases for voice that our research has uncovered look a little different.

Multimodal: Efficiency + Security

The future of voice technology will not be on the smart speaker alone, but rather through multimodal interfaces in mobile apps.

A multimodal interface is one that utilizes multiple formats (such as speech, text, graphics, etc.) to input and output information, such as a mobile app that is integrated with a custom voice assistant. This format of human-technology communication maximizes both efficiency and security for the user.

In terms of efficiency — humans speak at 130 words/minute, much faster than they can type (40 words/minute). This is why smart speakers have become so popular in the first place; because voice is a more efficient way to input information. However the missing piece of this is the output — humans read at 250 words per minute, much faster than they can only listen at 130/words per minute. Given this, the most efficient use of voice is a multimodal experience with spoken input and graphical/text output.

In regards to security, part of the problem with voice adoption by customers is that people are not comfortable paying a bill by voice alone. Only 37% of consumers feel that their financial data is secure when they pay by voice alone on a smart home device. With a multimodal experience that provides a visual view of the right amount of money being sent from the right account, the customer is able to have more security around the technology.

What the Future Could Look Like

With a multimodal interface experience, the future of voice in utilities, as well as across other industries, will be in the mobile app. To show what this could look like, the WillowTree team has put together a demo of the future of self-service in utilities.

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The future looks bright — and voice isn’t the only technology we’re excited about. WillowTree drives outcomes-based innovation across any platform where humans and technology connect. In partnership with our clients such as NiSource, National Grid, Knoxville Utilities Board, American Water, and AEP, our teams have built and launched award-winning web portals, mobile apps, investor websites, and backend/API integrations.

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Whether you’re just beginning a digital transformation, want to enhance your digital self-service, or revamp your mobile app, WillowTree can help. Contact our team to get started.

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