Why water utilities should embrace omnichannel communications

For you as a water utility, the use of digital technologies can provide solution scalability and streamlined processes while enabling effective customer engagement. Without these digital technologies, you will struggle to meet the increasing customer demands driven by technology accessibility. Connected devices of the Internet of Things (IoT), data-driven decision making, and enhanced communication methods ensure that your customers are more informed and have more communication platform choices than ever before.

You can use this evolution to further establish your customer relationships by empowering your customers with consumption insights, engaging them through new platforms, and transforming the CSR role from a commodity provider to a trusted partner.

The beginning of this transformation is omnichannel communications, or the ability to provide your customers with many communication channels through one single experience.

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The smart meter journey

There is a perception that digitalizing customer service in the water sector begins and ends with smart meters. While this is far from reality, smart meters are a more important topic than you may realize.

The most publicized benefit of smart metering is that it empowers your customers to monitor and understand their own consumption. This reduces billing queries and even enables early detection and resolution of infrastructure issues. These benefits empower your customer and promote transparency.

However, smart meters have many more benefits. During billing, smart meters reduce utility operational costs by shifting meter readings from a physical activity to an automated electronic process. Smart meters provide you with customer usage insights. You can use these insights to proactively educate customers on unexpected consumption spikes and even proactively identify resolutions to undesirable repetitive usage patterns.

Reimagining the contact center

Omnichannel communications provide your CSRs with the opportunity to completely reinvent their role. Omnichannel communication options reduce over-the-phone billing queries by as much as 50 percent, freeing CSRs to provide excellent customer experiences.

Using data generated from customer contacts via phone, e-mail, webforms, and chatbots, you inherently learn not only what prompts your customers to make contact, but the best way to resolve their issues. You can also automatically direct customers to the most effective communication channels while your CSRs focus on those issues that need a personal connection.

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Let’s review the ways your CSR’s job becomes easier with omnichannel communications and how customers are energized when moving to a proactive omnichannel approach:

CSR

CUSTOMER

  • Your CSRs become heroes, not villains. Being able to identify issues AND timely solutions means that your service team is a source of knowledge – not frustration.
  • CSRs stay involved with your customers via social channels, regular newsletters, and more, giving you a regular stream of data to better understand your customers.
  • CSRs can use PDCA (plan-do-check-adjust) principles to drive constant improvement, constantly reviewing what works and improving processes.
  • When your CSRs admit mistakes and explain the situation, your customers trust their honesty and openness, creating a better relationship.
  • Prevent fires. Although proactive maintenance comes with a learning curve and a mindset change, it’s much more satisfying to reduce firefighting and increase customer engagement.
  • Your customers can easily engage across multiple communication channels to report and understand issues. Step-by-step guides lead them to resolution.
  • Your customers feel like part of the family. With social monitoring and regular engagement, they feel heard and trust their issues will be resolved.
  • Your customers can find new routes of engagement to resolve simple queries quickly and painlessly. E.g.: a chatbot that guides them through understanding a bill.
  • Your customers save time by getting regular, timely updates about routine maintenance, planned outages, and billing matters.
  • By engaging with your utility’s brand personality, your customers build a sense of loyalty. Research shows that brands adopting a proactive approach can improve loyalty by up to five percent.
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The social utility

Given that almost every adult in America is both a water utility customer and social media user, it makes sense to engage your customers where they live. Social media is a great way for you to get your brand personality in front of your customers and organically engage them.

Social media can also be a powerful tool for managing issues, such as billing concerns, leaks, or an outage. By training your CSRs to monitor, engage, and resolve customer issues via social media, you can gain a powerful sense of customer loyalty and demonstrate your dedication to resolving issues.

You also need to embrace mobility. Customers engage with their bank, credit card companies, and more via their smart phone. As a water utility you can engage customers through an app as well, providing details on billing, payments, consumption, FAQs, and more. You could even provide a live map showing where you are working to update your customers on outages and infrastructure improvement.

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