As an increasing number of states move toward utility deregulation, call centers in the utility industry are becoming an increasingly important component in this highly competitive landscape. Customer service and price will drive customers’ decisions of which utility to select, requiring utilities to have call centers with technology and service representatives that can respond to customers faster and cheaper than the competition.
Deregulation legislation, at different stages throughout the country, has spurred utilities to upgrade the technology within their customer service centers to ensure they gain, not lose, customers. But proposing a call center investment and obtaining the necessary approval can be a daunting task that most likely will have to be cost-justified within an organization.
New call center technology can bring several quantifiable advantages to the bottom line, offering potential cost savings, opportunities for revenue growth and improved productivity.
Serving as a customer contact point as well as a platform for sales and marketing, the call center can use technology to simultaneously reach new customers and service existing ones.
Regardless of the utility’s size, every center has abandoned calls which are expensive, not only in terms of network costs and the cost of a callback but also in terms of the cost of not resolving the customer’s problem in one call.
To help reduce frustration in unusually high call-volume periods, dynamic announcements can be used to give callers a feeling that they are progressing and that their wait is diminishing.
Utilities’ customer service centers can offer callers the option of receiving a callback within a specified period if customer service representatives are not able to answer calls within a reasonable amount of time. Messages left by callers can be automatically sent to CSRs or retrieved by them when they are available, thereby off-loading the call volume to non-peak periods.
Traditional utility industry customer service centers are designed to receive incoming calls or place outbound calls, but the two functions can be “blended” to increase productivity and generate additional revenue. Technology is available that allows representatives who typically answer incoming calls to place outbound sales calls during low-volume periods. On the other hand, agents who normally make outbound calls can answer inbound customer-service calls during high-volume periods such as when inclement weather causes a widespread service disruption.
Reduce Network Expenses
By controlling and reducing a network services investment, the company obtains significant gains.
An incoming call can wait on the network in order to buy some extra time for a representative to become available without incurring 800 charges. The delay is generally set by a selected number of seconds of wait time if all agents are busy. Rather than immediately hearing a delay announcement, the caller will hear one, two, or three rings from the network while searching for an available CSR or before routing the call to a delay announcement.
During busy periods, a call center can refuse an incoming call by sending a busy signal to the network to alleviate network costs. Even if calls are abandoned or callers wait for a considerable duration, call centers unfortunately have to pay for network time.
A great way to reduce call center costs is to route calls that are repetitive in nature, (i.e. billing address, requests for rates, or payment options) to an information-only announcement, thereby saving the toll-free expenses as well as agent time.
Valuable agent time is often spent transferring callers to the correct group or department. This time could be better used by directing calls based on the agent’s skill set, reducing the costs associated with waiting.
When a caller inputs data through his or her keypad, the call is routed to the appropriate resource or department based on that information (i.e. “press 1 for sales or 2 for service”), saving both agent and network time.
Using data entered by the caller via the touchtone phone, such as an account number, the automatic call distributor can contact the data system to perform a database look up and determine how to best route and prioritize the call, lowering both agent and network time required for the call.
Data provided by the network via Dialed Number Identification Service or Automatic Number Identification, akin to caller ID, can be used by the ACD to either route the call to the correct resource or dictate which prompts a caller should hear when combined with Caller Directed Call Routing.
Reduce Call Set-Up Time
When an agent receives information about the call and caller prior to answering, call set-up time is significantly reduced and agent productivity is increased.
Information collected about the caller through call routing can be sent to a host data system for validation and searching. The ACD and the host data system can then synchronize the arrival of the call and the data screen to the agent. The data collection process is done while the caller is waiting, resulting in more prepared and productive agents.
The more information about the call type or call origin that can be provided automatically to each agent prior to call delivery, the more efficient the call can be handled. Call-type information can be provided in audio or visual format. The display on the agent telephone also can be used to present information entered by the caller such as an account number. The representative can use this data to begin retrieving the data screen while greeting the caller.
Technology-enabled benefits enhance the performance of every agent, resulting in massive improvements throughout the call center. Technology allows more calls to be answered and significantly improves the call center’s productivity, creating benefits for agents, customers and ultimately the company.
Utilities foreseeing a fierce competitive climate are upgrading their call center technology to support aggressive customer service efforts now and in the future. Collectively, these technology-enabled benefits can bring quantifiable advantages to the bottom line and thereby simplify the cost justification process.