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How Utility Companies Use Conversational AI

Utility companies are increasingly incorporating conversational AI into their contact centers. The benefits, ranging from better customer service to improved customer safety, are reason enough to implement this technology, but the bottom line is—if your utility company wants to stay competitive in this customer-driven industry, conversational AI can help. Below, we’re going to take a look at not only how utility companies use conversational AI, but why they use it. And why your company should use it, too.

What Is Conversational AI?

Have you ever asked Amazon Alexa, “What’s the weather today?” or Google Home “What is the name of this song?” If so, you’ve used conversational AI.

In a nutshell, conversational AI helps computers communicate with humans. With the help of natural language processing (NLP), conversational AI uses Intelligent Virtual Agents (IVAs) to communicate like a human by deconstructing customer voice input, determining the intent for their call, and responding accordingly—much like a human would. This might mean answering customers’ commonly asked questions, or if an inquiry is too complex, forwarding them to a live agent that can. Compared to traditional IVR, conversational AI offers substantial improvements for both customers and companies by allowing customers to interact naturally with their IVA via inbound customer calls or outbound outreach.

Specific to utility companies, IVAs using conversational AI can be trained to do any common task a live agent would normally do, such as activate service, accept payments, set up service appointments, or send notifications about power outages, usage rates, and peak times. IVAs with conversational AI can be trained to do more complicated tasks than a traditional IVR, partly because an IVA can pick up on the cadence and tone of a customer’s voice. IVAs get customers what they need—quickly, efficiently, and effectively. 

How Can Conversational AI Help Utility Companies?

Utility companies communicating with customers via conversational AI will benefit from improved customer service, lower contact center costs, and increased power and flexibility. Customers communicating with utility company’s IVAs will benefit from a more convenient and streamlined customer experience. 

Improved Customer Service

Utility companies use conversational AI to offer customers a personalized, efficient, and effective customer experience. And they can offer it 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and 365 days a year in multiple languages. Customers can ask for exactly what they want and get an immediate response because IVAs can understand caller intent. No waiting on hold to chat with a live agent. No complicated phone menus. Understanding a caller’s intent quicker will decrease overall phone time, which is appreciated on both ends of the line. And when IVAs manage common inquiries, live agents have more availability to address customers with more complex issues. This efficiency creates a competitive advantage for any company that’s implemented conversational AI.

Lower Costs

Hiring and training live agents are expensive projects in any industry. Implementing conversational AI and automating tasks decreases the amount of time live agents are tied up answering commonly asked questions. This means commonly asked questions will be answered quickly and accurately via IVAs while live agents will have more availability to handle any complex requests that may arise. Contact centers keep costs down with this improved call containment. They can take more calls, more frequently, and thereby, increase the scale of their operations. 

Power and Flexibility

Implement conversational AI now and continue to improve your customer service well into the future. If you’re interested in increased power and flexibility, check out Plum Voice’s AI Fusion™. It allows companies to leverage the best AI resources from top organizations, such as Amazon, Google, IBM, Microsoft, and Nuance. And you’ll never be locked into one vendor. Plum Voice’s platform accesses top NLP, which is always improving because providers are constantly competing to improve their own AI capabilities.   

Examples of Conversational AI in Utility Companies

And now for the big question: How do utility companies actually use conversational AI? While this list is by no means exhaustive, here are a few of our favorite examples: 

Payments

Making payments isn’t exactly fun, which is why customers want to pay bills quickly, securely, and conveniently. For utility customers, it can be even more stressful if a disconnect is on the horizon. Sure, some customers prefer online payments if it’s what they’re used to, but 62% of utility customers say they prefer making a payment without logging onto their computer. Conversational AI allows utility companies to offer faster transactions, personalize their customer experience, and offer payments securely via phone with a PCI-DSS compliant IVR solution (This level of security is absolutely necessary to protect sensitive customer information and is available via Plum Voice self-serve solutions). In addition to making full or partial payments, callers can check the status of their accounts, inquire about unpaid balances, due dates, and more!

Notifications

Service disruptions, unfortunately, happen from time to time. And when they do happen, what is the first thing you do? Call the utility company to find out what’s going on? You’re not alone. If the outage is large-scale, the number of callers dialing into a contact center can be substantial, and this can really impact employees as they attempt to communicate with every single customer. Live agents become overwhelmed with the volume of work and customers grow frustrated with wait times and lack of accessible information. This is especially true when service disruptions occur without notice.

Utility companies use conversational AI to proactively communicate before planned outages and during unexpected ones, too. This proactive outbound contact reduces inbound call volumes to live agents by relying on IVAs to relay important and accurate information to customers. As customers are kept up to date on when, where, and for how long outages may occur (via personalized voice or SMS notifications), they are more likely to retain confidence and trust in their utility company.

Customers can also sign up to receive personalized notifications for things like available invoices, payment due dates, and high usage rates. They’ll appreciate how easy it is to stay on top of their accounts and track usage every month, helping them conserve energy and maintain consistency in monthly amounts due.

A new feature that customers are becoming increasingly aware of—is how well their utility company encourages energy conservation. Reducing our environmental impact should be equally important to the company and the customer. Conversational AI enables companies to notify customers of peak times, when utility costs may be higher. Knowing when to avoid high-energy use activities – like charging an electric car – leads to happy customers and increased customer retention. 

Service Activations and Terminations

Activations and terminations are simple tasks that can easily be accomplished by IVAs. Utility companies routinely use conversational AI to create a personal customer experience while streamlining these onboardings and cancellations. Conversational AI can also help with signing up for services like paperless billing, autopay, service requests, or even filing a complaint about something as simple as tree trimming or as serious as a fallen tree on a power line. So basically, conversational AI can streamline the processes of opening an account, closing an account, and all common account management inquiries that happen in between.

SMS Integrated with Voice Apps

Two-way SMS messaging can help connect utility companies with their customers in order to alert them to disruption updates, let them know about upcoming offers, or even send personalized messages about their accounts. Ideas are endless and can be implemented specifically to address the needs of each individual utility company.

Cultivate Customer Confidence

We mentioned it above, but it bears repeating. Proactive interaction is essential in building customer trust. Personal and reliable communication offered by conversational AI develops a customer-centric service approach, which is essential to build a better customer experience, appeal to new potential customers, and retain the customers you currently have. 

Record Data in the Field

Manually inputting data can be time-consuming and unintentionally leave room for human error. Leveraging Plum Voice cloud technology to let workers collect data and automatically push it to back-end systems offers utility companies an accurate and efficient option for daily activities. 

Surveys

Just how good is your customer service? There’s only one way to find out. And Plum Voice’s Plum Insight survey software can help. Over the phone or online, communicate with customers anytime and anywhere using a simple, easy-to-use program. You can only improve your business if you know which areas need improving. Surveys help utility companies measure, assess, and advance overall processes and specific offerings.

Final Thoughts

Cutting-edge customer service gives companies a competitive edge. And in today’s market, competition from other providers encourages utility companies to use conversational AI to rise to the expectations of their customers.

When people want information, they want it fast. Conversational AI offers personalized automated interactions 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and 365 days a year. So, no matter where your customers live, they will have easy and efficient access to utility service information.And since no two businesses are the same, Plum Voice offers self-service solutions specific to your company’s individual needs. Want to get started with a free trial? Start building today or speak with an expert to learn more.

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