For years, I worked at a major utility, figuring out how to better engage our customers. It certainly wasn’t an easy task — customer service can be a hard business for utilities. That’s especially true in the context of the numerous challenges facing today’s industry: distributed generation, flattening electricity demand, increased pressure from regulators, and heightened customer expectations among them. As an industry, these trends are leading utilities to focus more and more on improving customer service. And rightfully so — it represents a $30 billion per year expense that still has some room for improvement. The question is: can utilities truly reinvent customer service, in a cost-effective way that strengthens the customer relationship and bolsters the bottom line? At Opower, we think the answer is a resounding “yes.”
Announcing Opower's Customer Care Solution
By leveraging the same core competency that has helped customers save six billion kilowatt-hours of energy worldwide, we’re now extending our efforts to tackle a new challenge: utility customer service. And today, as part of Opower’s newest technology platform release — Opower 6 — we’re excited to announce our new Customer Care solution. Understandably, customer service may seem like an unusual move for a company that’s been mostly known for energy efficiency. So, how did we reach this point? In building out our technology platform that now serves more than 95 utility partners worldwide, we’ve become intimately familiar with industry challenges that run parallel to energy efficiency. Among those challenges, customer service in particular looms large. The global utility industry currently spends $30 billion each year on customer operations, with a large portion of that spending going toward billing and call centers. Utilities often find themselves putting more than a third of their customer care budget into call center operations alone. Despite these large investments, however, research shows that utility-customer interactions still have room for improvement: customers have difficulty understanding their electricity bill; they often find call center interactions unsatisfying; they lack awareness of many utility programs.
Ushering in a new era of utility customer service
For more than a year, we’ve worked to develop a Customer Care solution that will help utilities unlock that opportunity and improve their customer experience. Throughout this process, we met with dozens of call center operators and directors; we analyzed troves of call center data that reveal critical moments in the customer lifecycle; and we surveyed thousands of customers worldwide.
This extensive customer research has led to our first Customer Care offering — the Bill Advisor — which features timely notices and powerful analytics that allow utilities to breathe new life into the age-old utility bill. The solution is directly supported by a broad set of upgrades to Opower’s industry-leading platform that provides best-in-class tools and analytics to all of our utility partners. In early pilots, this approach has already helped utilities cut high call volumes by as much as 19 percent. In the coming months, this new solution will roll out to many of our utility partners, with Loveland Water & Power in Colorado and Puget Sound Energy (PSE) in Washington being two of the first providers to revolutionize their customer experience.
Neel Gulhar is a Director of Product Marketing at Opower. Prior to joining Opower, he led the implementation of smart grid solutions and cutting-edge customer engagement experiences at Baltimore Gas and Electric for 12 years.