The hard truth is that the current customer engagement model is unsustainable. In a market where ten suppliers have gone out of business since January 2018, where the regulator has introduced the price cap, and where price aggregator sites encourage a race to the bottom, change is needed.
Customer expectations and increasing pressure on margins have not made a happy mix for energy suppliers in the past few years. Affecting both established players and fast-growing independent challengers alike, unhappy customers are voting with their wallets with a record of 5.9 million households switching energy supplier in 2018. Companies that fail to deliver exceptional experiences consistently, struggle to compete on value and have to revert to competing on price.
Sustainability is about doing more with less.
Understanding the customer journey
Companies first need to understand pain points throughout the various customer journeys. Where is the digital experience failing customers during key journeys such as billing enquiries, refunds, forgotten passwords, balance checks and moving home?
A recent study on customer experience revealed that 61 per cent of consumers felt it took too long for enquiries to be resolved. The survey found 35 per cent were frustrated at repeating themselves to different advisers, while 26 per cent experienced difficulty using a self-service option.
The next step is to improve the customer journey employing technology where speed or scale is required. One lever to improve customer journeys is to optimise touchpoints. While some consumers prefer to call or email, others prefer chat or self-service.
The survey found 74 per cent of consumers appreciate the benefits of interacting with an AI chatbot, including quicker resolution and easier access to support.
Increasing loyalty with CX
In “Predictions 2019: Customer Experience” analyst firm Forrester suggest a correlation between price and customer experience: “Companies that despair of differentiating on the basis of CX will resort to price cuts to attract new customers.” This implies that differentiation through CX may prevent destructive price wars.
This is why companies would be wise to adopt a customer-centric approach to increase customer satisfaction and loyalty. A recent McKinsey report suggests that a 30 per cent increase in customer satisfaction (CSAT) and a 50 per cent reduction in cost to serve (CTS) is achievable by analysing various customer journeys and providing digital assistance to make them effortless.
AI for customer engagement
Conversational chatbots and intelligent FAQs provide immediate answers to repetitive questions and perform automated tasks, freeing up agents to be available to help customers in the moments that matter, improving CSAT and net promoter score (NPS) in key engagements.
Use cases beyond a simple knowledge base can be covered by integration with operations systems, systems of record, or data analytics. Customers can easily check their tariff or balance, change their direct debit or submit a claim for a refund without the need to navigate the website.
Sustainability is also about harmony. Achieving the right balance between automated and AI-assisted agent interactions is important. Customers should have the option to get in touch with a human agent, for example when the enquiry is more complex. AI can’t do everything, but it is very good at some things. Harmony between agents and bots is a crucial element in delivering great CX while reducing cost to serve.
Intelligent and consistent CX
CX is the battleground that will decide winners and losers among energy suppliers over the next decade. Improving CSAT, while simultaneously reducing CTS, is key. Companies will have to find the right balance between automation and humanity to develop a sustainable customer engagement strategy. This requires a deep understanding of the customer journey as well as the right technology.
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