Sally Elliott, surface strategy lead, Microsoft UK Customers, Innovation, Technology, Opinion

You can get the job done right first time by equipping frontline workers with the right mobile tools, says Microsoft UK’s Sally Elliott.

Whatever walk of life people may be in, they will have come into contact with the utilities sector in some shape or form. No surprise, then, that customer service sits at the very centre of this sector. Now more than ever, companies are working around the clock to deliver the best service possible, in the shortest amount of time. As with any industry, customer service is essential to the health of the sector, but recent research by Accenture finds that the most traditional energy retailers lag behind disruptor brands in offering “a satisfying experience”. Naturally, this impacts customer retention as well as satisfaction.

In a competitive and digitally driven environment, disruptive brands thrive and traditional players must change if they are to remain relevant. As a quick fix, the majority often turn to technology and digital solutions designed to further engage their customers but often neglect to look inside their own organisation to see what their employees require to be able to collaborate and communicate more effectively.

Getting the job right, the first time

The focal point of delivering customer service in the utilities sector remains with the frontline worker. These individuals – such as the field service engineer, maintenance worker and customer care operator – are at the core and are constantly working to keep our businesses open and our homes warm. Despite this personal service, it is still commonplace to hear customer complaints such as an appointment that got cancelled at the last minute or a delay to a boiler fix. And these instances remain challenging.

The common denominator here is the lack of real-time information received by frontline workers on the job from their colleagues back in the office. Often, workers in this industry arrive with clipboards and handheld devices which only detail the specifics of the job. What is missing is a constant flow of information enabled by mobile devices and cloud-based software, so that both customers and the wider business are kept informed of the status of the repairs or any additional requirements such as the need to order a new part.

What is more, having a mobile device with LTE connection, coupled with cloud-based collaboration tools, can enable workers to offer real-time updates on the status of live jobs, any delays or any need for assistance from more senior or experienced engineers. For example, when dealing with larger issues such as water pipes bursting, workers can assess the damage quicker by bringing in more experienced engineers via virtual communication tools. This real-time way of working, regardless of physical location, also ensures affected homes and businesses are kept informed of the status, rather than left wondering when it will be fixed.

Here, mobile software and hardware has the potential to significantly accelerate the flow of data within these organisations, helping keep frontline workers connected to any department and empowered to deliver better and more efficient customer service the first time around.

Going beyond productivity and efficiency, mobile technology can also boost employee engagement. Often, they feel disconnected from their wider teams because of a lack of available communication tools while they are on the go. Having workplace collaboration solutions at their fingertips helps bring teams together and improves communication between employees, allowing them to stay in touch and share updates regardless of their physical location. This helps all workers feel like a part of the team.

What is clear is that businesses operating in the utilities industry need to put their customers first. To achieve this, the industry as a whole needs to rethink its relationship with technology. Only then will the opportunities it can provide to optimise operations and help bring teams together become a reality.

Similarly, ensuring a customer-first approach will be achieved only by focusing on frontline workers, ensuring they are involved from the get-go and are empowered with the suitable technology to do their jobs.


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