Turning On The Lights For Customer Service Appointments

Jennifer Friedman | Jul 27, 2011

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When the power goes out, the last thing an energy provider wants to do is keep their customers in the dark. But many utilities are still far behind the times when it comes to mobile workforce management. Of course, the complexities of managing real-time customer service requests are vast. Routing work orders, seamlessly connecting technicians and dispatchers, implementing legacy software applications, tracking customer feedback, viewing customer history, and managing home certification and diagnostics tools are just some of the issues that need to be resolved. But even with all these obstacles, legacy mobile workforce management systems leave customers waiting for the lights to come back on far longer than is needed.

With market deregulation in the late 1990s has come increased competition for electric utilities. This is a new world to which they must adjust, with increased focus on cutting costs and enhancing the customer service experience. And one key point of focus for both cost cutting and enhancing the customer experience is the in-home service appointment.

Some electric utilities are beginning to realize that the service a customer receives around appointments in their own home can have a huge impact on customer retention. According to research by Greenfield Online and Datamonitor/Ovum analysts, utilities in competitive regions lose $1.75 billion in annual revenue due to poor customer service. That number is the cost of customer churn/defections -- it doesn't take into account the wasted operational expenditures poor service creates.

To shed some light on the issue, TOA Technologies conducted a "Cost of Waiting Survey," to assess the true costs of waiting on companies and consumers. The survey is an eye opener for all industries with in-home service, however the electricity industry fared far worse than any other utility:

  • 5.1 hours -- the average wait time for an electric company appointment, the highest average wait time in the US reported across all services surveyed. It is also 86% higher than what respondents expected to wait.

  • Electric companies have the worst customer service ranking of all utilities at 5.9 out of 10. Internet was 6.2, water was 6.4 and gas was 6.5 out of 10.

  • Electric companies in other countries make customers wait far less than the US -- 4.4 hours in Germany and 3.6 in the UK.

  • 55% of waiting Americans blame the company when the appointment/delivery is late.

  • 28% of respondents have left home because the service person was late.

  • Businesses lose $719 annually for each person who cancels or switches service providers (based on respondent estimates).



Clearly, there's a lot of room for improvement. If electric companies don't change the way they manage their workers and schedules, the costs could be enormous.

But there is a solution to this problem for electric companies. Today's technology allows companies to increase efficiencies while improving customer service. Mobile workforce management software can be integrated into existing CRM systems to seamlessly handle customer appointments and put an end to people "waiting without knowing." So, the "holy grail" of customer service does exist.

Offering appointments that suit the customer, not the delivery driver or mobile worker, is the first step to enhancing the customer experience. Old workforce management systems don't optimize routes and schedules -- which ends up wasting expensive man hours and gas consumption (particularly with fuel prices on the rise). Dispatch can't see in real-time what's happening across all workers and make adjustments where necessary -- another efficiency loss. And many customers leave their homes in frustration before a worker arrives, which then requires an additional truck-roll -- wasting both time and money for the utility.

What can make a real difference for electric utilities is providing customers with greater reassurance that the appointment will happen at the time it is supposed to take place and communicating possible changes proactively. Not only does this improve the customer experience, it also greatly reduces the number of missed appointments and in-bound calls to call centers, and therefore helps control costs.

Some companies look at customer service improvements as an expense -- but with the right solutions they're an investment that can produce quick and significant returns. By adhering to some very simple ideas, and a relatively humble investment, electric utilities can keep a lot of customers loyal and assure future revenue for the long term. By embracing new technologies, and by focusing on what is most important to customers -- their time and their dignity -- electric utilities can change the way they think about, and work with, their customers.



As providers start evaluating mobile workforce management systems, there are many criteria for comparing and evaluating. But they should always ask the following questions:

  • Is the system smart? Many solution providers install it and forget it. The system doesn't change and evolve with the times -- so neither does your company. But Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) systems are updated automatically and the provider always works with you to make sure you have the solution you need. There are also systems that have a business intelligence approach -- they analyze past workforce performance patterns to predict future appointment durations.

  • Is the system flexible? Leading mobile workforce management solutions offer flexibility for every stakeholder. SaaS systems can be device agnostic, so workers can access their schedules and routes from any web-enabled phone, tablet, PC or laptop. Dispatch gets a comprehensive, real-time view of what's happening in the field and can make changes as needed. And customers can choose how they get appointment updates -- phone, text, email, social media, etc.

  • Is the system easy? Mobile workforce management tools should be intuitive for the company, the customer and the worker. Communications with the customer should be friendly, proactive and automated. Workers should have a clear view of what their day looks like and be able to update dispatch on their progress with a click of a button. And the entire system needs to offer clear analytics to evaluate its performance.

  • What's the bottom line? The right customer service improvements can save electric companies huge sums of money by dramatically lowering operational costs and improving efficiencies. Solutions exist that can pay for themselves within a few days. They can also elevate brand reputation, improve net promoter scores and reduce customer churn.

With the technology out there and so much to gain by enhancing the customer appointment experience, the most important question to ask is: "What are you waiting for?"

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