Service is a confidence-building exercise in the eyes of your customers, if executed well. For utilities, employees’ actions – or inactions – directly impact customers’ confidence in your organization and the services you provide.
It doesn’t matter if…
- a technician’s installing a smart meter;
- a lineman’s installing a new transformer;
- a distribution system manager is trying to rebalance the load during peak periods;
- a customer service representative is fielding billing-related calls from customers…
The face-to-face human connections and behind-the-scenes technological connections that occur will directly and indirectly influence the perceived value of your utility service. In fact, there is nothing that affects the confidence that customers have in your utility more than the quality of the service that they receive.
Considering that customer satisfaction with American utilities is on a downward slope for the third straight year, now is the time to re-evaluate processes for field service and customer service. Utility leaders need to embrace customers’ expressed pain points as an opportunity for business process improvement (BPI). Fortunately, many of the contributing factors to customers’ dissatisfaction are indeed in the control of field service technicians and customer service representatives. And many can be resolved almost immediately with mobile technologies.
For example, American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) founder and Chairman Claes Forness recently noted that today’s utility customers are most sensitive to price changes and service disruption. However, “ quality plays a more important role in satisfying customers than price in almost all ACSI-measured industries.”
Customers understand that, for better or worse, there isn’t a lot of competition in the utility space and that rates are highly regulated. But customers still expect a certain level of service reliability or professionalism from utilities’ customer service teams. People’s true character always comes to light in stressful or emergency situations. So when outages occur due to routine utility equipment maintenance or unexpected repairs, your employees’ actions (or perceived inaction) become demonstrative of your service organization’s character. If you react fast, communicate with customers, and prioritize service quality, customers will take notice. They’ll also vocalize when you fail to do any of the above. Just as they did in the 2016 ACSI: The speed of power restoration after an outage – or lack of speed and perceived inability to improve on it – reduced consumer confidence in utilities.
Repairing an underlying technology issue doesn’t automatically repair the relationship utilities have with customers in that moment. Re-securing customer confidence in utilities’ service quality is not as simple as dispatching highly skilled and passionate workers to substations during peak periods or into the field for residential and commercial outage calls either. Those traits don’t necessarily facilitate more proactivity or a faster reaction. Data does.
That’s why you have to dispatch well-informed workers. You have to give them all the data they need to confidently make real-time decisions about how to resolve an issue, close a deal, or install a piece of equipment that will – quickly – influence customer satisfaction. And you have to be able to do so faster than before. That’s only feasible with a well-connected, reliable, and purpose-built computer within arm’s reach at all times.
Unlike laptops or notebooks that are heavy in hand and not easy to use outside a vehicle, truly mobile computers such as rugged tablet PCs give utility technicians every tool they need to do their job at the very moment they need it in a single device. Rugged tablets survive anything the job brings, and so they are always available – always on the job – just like your technicians. No return trips to the central garage needed. No repeat service calls needed. And, if needed, technicians can easily collaborate with supervisors or specialized team members to resolve more challenging issues without ever leaving the job site. In other words, the right mobile technologies – due to their real-time, no-holds-barred data access – give utility employees the confidence needed to not just do the job, but do it with precision and professionalism. That is the “secret sauce” to building customer confidence in your organization.
This should be a relief to utilities, especially those who have already made significant investments in mobility solutions for their field service workforce. In fact, many have already experienced the powerful benefits of mobile tech. The 2016 ACSI results weren’t all gloom and doom for utilities: Residential customers actually credited electric utilities with more reliable service this year. One could argue a correlation exists between this increase in service reliability and utilities’ increased reliance on more reliable rugged tablet solutions across multiple operations.
The takeaway? Correcting today’s customer satisfaction challenges doesn’t necessarily require a complete system reboot. It just requires better utilization of the mobile technologies already proven to benefit several other utility operations. Once you find the right rugged tablet hardware and workflow software combination, it will suddenly become easier to:
- Take technology-based measures to improve upon response procedures (i.e. automated dispatch and troubleshooting, faster routing, immediate ID of equipment requirements, etc.).
- Confidently communicate status updates to customers.
- Anticipate issues before they occur to minimize service disruptions.
- Provide value-added services to residential and commercial customers.
And therefore, it will become easier to:
- Do the best service work you can, as fast as customers want.
- Restore customer confidence in your utility’s service capabilities.
- Reduce customers’ negative social media posts about your utility and replace them with positive posts boasting exceptional service (service experience drives more social media posts than other aspects of a purchase).
- Secure repeat customer sales for equipment and/or services (the most productive sales activities for any business).
Blog Author: Bob Ashenbrenner
President of Durable Mobility Technologies, LLC.