Our Energy and Utilities team headed to Charlotte to attend CS Week 2023. Here are some of our favorite trends from the event, including AI opportunities, C&I customer experience and techniques for achieving energy equity.
The topic tracks for this year’s event were analytics, billing and payments, contact center, credit and collection, digital customer engagement, field services, and strategies and management, proving this conference has something for everyone. In case you missed this year’s event, or would like to revisit, we’ll recap some of our top takeaways in this blog.
Hot Topic One: Artificial Intelligence Presents New Opportunities
AI was the hot topic at this year’s CS Week, both at the presentations, as well as at the vendor booths. Discussions centered on how AI can transform energy consumer communications and engagement are fitting for a conference focused on customer experience.
Utilities have a wealth of customer data that can use to make AI models thrive. Simply put, utilities will soon be able to process massive amounts of data to better engage and support their customers. Just a few of the customer-experience-focused use cases the conference explored include:
- Energy Management: Machine learning models using advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) data to provide highly personalized energy management recommendations, rather than the more generalized recommendations currently provided by the typical utility organization, are a strong potential AI use case. AI will support energy disaggregation, meaning the utility can now have a complete view of real-time energy usage for each customer. This view is particularly relevant when considering initiatives such as electric vehicle (EV) adoption. With the growth of EV purchases and the resulting pressure on the grid, AI will help support load balancing by identifying the customers with EVs and helping them move to time-of-use (TOU) pricing and forecast the load in a given area based on historical usage. Utility companies can use this data to support pricing models and customer costs savings while encouraging customer behaviors to balance use.
- Personalization: Utilities have embraced creating customer personas to drive marketing and communications. AI allows you to take those personas to the next level with enhanced segmentation, targeting and content generation opportunities. For example, companies can create personalized messages to drive enrollment in programs such as AutoPay or support marketplace purchases for smart appliances based on customer profile information. Several CRM and CIS solutions, including Salesforce and Oracle, presented their approaches to supporting this type of personalized engagement using built-in bot solutions
- Self-Service Adoption: Many opportunities exist to use AI insights and automated communications to support self-service adoption and overall customer satisfaction. For example, some utilities discussed utilizing behavior patterns to understand when the customer may have trouble performing a utility function (for example, completing a transfer service request) and sending proactive support and communications via the channel rather than having the customer call the contact center.
- Customer Support: Speakers also discussed crafting customer service response communications, including emails personalized to the customer’s information as a strong potential AI use case. Utilities can train customer service representatives to use an AI-enhanced chatbot, such as Salesforce’s Einstein, to quickly direct the customer to relevant resources based on a quick search.
This access can reduce customer wait times and provide more relevant information to customers. Companies are also using AI to help optimize contact center operations, with one organization claiming a 40 percent improvement in overall contact-center performance based on AI-driven customer insights.
Though the AI discussions were exciting, companies are currently navigating important conversations around security, data privacy, governance models and AI use guidelines, as well as ethics and biases when considering AI implementations.
Hot Topic Two: Don’t Forget Your Commercial and Industrial Customer Experience
While utilities have made great strides in improving the residential customer experience, they lag behind when providing the same level of support for commercial and industrial (C&I) customer experience.
IBM, NextEra, Salesforce, PwC and others stressed the need to create strong digital customer experiences for these customers during their sessions. Presenters discussed two primary avenues: C&I customer dashboards and C&I agent support portals. C&I customers will have very different needs than your residential customers. However, many utility companies try to use similar – or even the same – tools to address these needs, which results in an overall diminished experience.
For a utility company looking to get started, we recommend starting at the basics: understanding your customer needs through the build-out of detailed personas and journey maps. You must inform this process through extensive research, data analysis, and customer and account manager interviews.
Customer personas for C&I will generally reflect 10 to 15 of your most typical customer segments (for example, a mid-market manufacturing company). However, we should note the differences between C&I customers will be far greater than with your residential customer personas. So, it is important to consider individual account needs. You should also create personas for internal utility team members, such as your key account managers, to fully understand how they can best engage with their customers through digital processes.
Once you establish these customer personas, you can start building journey maps. Journey maps describe the processes a customer goes through throughout the relationship lifecycle. It includes the processes to complete tasks, with a full description of any challenges and opportunities at each stage of the interaction.
The benefits of an enhanced experience for C&I customers include increasing customer loyalty, upselling, improved customer satisfaction, increased self-service and more.
Look for tools that provide highly personalized experiences for your C&I customers, allowing for tailored one-on-one communication with their utility account managers. These tools should also make the account manager’s life easier by providing actionable customer engagement recommendations such as content, custom communications about value-add services, proactive rather than reactive issue resolution and so on.
Several modern CRM platforms, including Salesforce’s Utilities and Energy Cloud offer innovative solutions in this space.
Hot Topic Three: Serving Customers Equitably
The conference devoted several sessions to providing equitable utility services. These points included making sure the cost of renewable energy investments was not disproportionately burdening low-income customers.
The advancement of utility and government information sharing was another hot topic. Several states allow for data sharing, which allows utilities to know when customers are struggling financially or have other situations that could impact their ability to pay for their services.
This practice seems like an area more states and utilities should explore, keeping the confidentiality of customer data at the forefront of consideration. While not discussed extensively, data-masking techniques could help utilities and government organizations get the data they need to make informed decisions while not violating private citizens’ information.
A few utilities also explored methods to combat potential disparities related to service shut offs. Looking at data trends, utility companies can identify their most at-risk customers and proactively provide support services, such as autoenrollment into support programs using Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) data, emergency bill pay assistance and payment plans.
Moreover, these sessions addressed the need to ensure AI programs and use cases consider equity concerns. First, organizations must ensure they have strong data protection measures in place to ensure customer privacy and transparency around how they will use the data. Second, organizations will need to set up clear processes for regularly auditing AI algorithms for bias to make sure decision-making processes are fair.
For example, if an algorithm relies heavily on the utility’s historical data that may disproportionately favor one type of customer type and is used to determine eligibility for certain value-add services or benefits, it may perpetuate existing inequalities in energy access. Regular audits can help identify and rectify these biases, ensuring the utility serves customers equitably.
CS Week 2023 is an excellent forum to bring the utility community together to share insights and best practices. From the transformative power of artificial intelligence to revolutionizing commercial and industrial customer experiences and the quest for equitable utility services, the conference captured themes that sparked the question: should CS Week become CX Week next year?