7 Effective Strategies to Reduce Call Center Volume for Utilities
November 17, 2023
Let’s play a little game called “Would you rather.” Would you rather clean a toilet or call customer service? If you’re like 42% of customers, it’s toilet duty. Talk about a red flag! Despite their best efforts to avoid dialing customer service, customers can’t always find answers to their questions, like ‘Why is my bill so high?” or “How long will my power be out?” Other times, they might need to perform simple tasks such as transferring their service or scheduling a technician appointment. However, despite their preferences, they often find themselves having to resort to a conventional phone call.
At the heart of this customer service aversion is high call volumes. This has been a recurring challenge for utilities, triggering long phone wait times that hamper customer satisfaction.
Fortunately, there are many things you can do to improve efficiency and deliver quicker, more responsive customer service without bogging down your call center. This blog looks at the root causes and symptoms of high call volumes and provides seven practical ways to reduce your call center volume.
1. Enable Customer Independence With Self-Service Portals
If you don’t give your customers the ability to self-serve, chances are they are being forced to call your call center for answers and probably not happy about it. In fact, 79% say they expect organizations to provide self-service support tools to help customers find the answers themselves. We’re happy to report that utilities are listening, with many turning to customer portals to drive self-service interactions and improve customer experience. By incorporating a variety of self-service communication channels, you can enhance customer experience, quicken response rates, and significantly decrease call center volume.
2. Capitalize on the Popularity of AI Chatbots
Customers’ dislike of calling customer service has left them hunting for alternatives, and many are turning to AI for help. A significant 74% of customers stated they would choose a chatbot over a human agent to look for answers to simple questions (PSFK). AI chatbots use natural language processing (NLP) or machine learning to understand customer requests and improve with each interaction. According to Juniper Research, by the end of 2023, chatbots are expected to save businesses up to 2.5 billion hours of work and reduce customer service costs by as much as 30%.1 Self-service solutions, like KUBRA IQ, allow customers to interact with you through an intelligent chatbot using natural language processing to replicate human speech.
3. Unleash the Power of Well-Designed Bills
It’s what’s inside that counts, and that includes bill envelopes. A well-designed bill is a game changer for your customers because it alleviates confusion, reducing their need to call your call center with bill questions. By "well-designed," we're referring to a bill where crucial information, such as the amount due and due date, is prominently displayed and easily accessible. It also means using visuals, like charts and graphs, to explain customer usage information and highlight changes in consumption, helping customers understand why their monthly bill was dramatically different from previous months. We have evidence that this not only makes an impact on call center traffic but also on customer satisfaction. KUBRA research found that 65.6% of consumers felt that an easy-to-understand bill contributes most to having a good experience with their bills. This further emphasizes the importance of creating transactional documents that are so easy to understand that your customers won’t have to contact you with billing-related questions.
4. Stay One Step Ahead with Proactive Communication and Outage Reporting
There is an abundance of tools designed to improve your organization's interactions with your customers, which can have a positive impact on reducing call center volume. For instance, an alerts and preference management solution like KUBRA Notifi® allows you to automatically send messages of interest to customers, such as billing and payment updates or utility outages.
Proactive outage reporting is available via Notifi, but KUBRA takes things further with outage and incident maps. KUBRA’s IncidentWatch™ map for streetlight outages gives your customers a simple, intuitive way to report problems with outdoor lights or other infrastructure, removing the need for someone to answer a call and manually enter the outage into the system. And, with severe weather on the rise, having a reliable way to communicate with customers during these times is critical. Storm Center™, KUBRA’s interactive outage map solution, effectively updates customers on the power outage information they need when they need it. The new Additional Map Layers module in Storm Center lets you share information about hazards, planned work, wildfire advisories, gas outages, and more through your outage maps. With the adoption of Storm Center and Notifi, tangible improvements in communication efficiency can be achieved. For instance, a KUBRA client experienced a 77% increase in proactive outage communications and an 18% reduction in inbound calls during outages.
5. Let Natural Language IVR Solve Routine Queries
Despite all of these measures, customers will call you. When they do, natural language IVR (interactive voice response) technology can handle the most common tasks so your call center can focus on complex issues. A Natural Language IVR (a feature of our on-demand payment solution EZ-PAY®) enables customers to ask and answer questions in everyday language without human intervention.
The everyday language is key because 61% of consumers think that traditional IVR delivers a poor customer experience. Traditional IVRs often have long menus, causing frustration for customers as they are forced to sit through a long list of options just to complete a simple task. With Natural Language IVR, simple requests like asking for the balance due or making a payment can be handled automatically, giving CSRs more time to deal with complicated calls. They’re also available 24/7, enabling customers to get support or carry out transactions outside of business hours without needing to talk to an agent.
6. Streamline Billing Processes With Multiple Ways to Pay
The easier you make it for customers to pay their bills, the less chance they will need to contact your call center to deal with payment-related issues, discrepancies, or delays. Offering various payment methods (online, mobile, in-person, etc.) helps you achieve this. By catering to different customer preferences, you allow them to pay in a channel they’re most comfortable with, reducing the need to call you for payment assistance. With multiple convenient options available, customers are more likely to pay their bills on time, lowering calls related to late payment notices, payment arrangements, or service reconnects.
7. Predictive Analytics
While predictive analytics doesn’t necessarily reduce call center volume, it can help you anticipate periods of high call volumes based on historical data. This lets you understand the ebb and flow of call center traffic and allows you to staff up during peak times, improving efficiency and reducing customer wait times. Predictive analytics can also analyze customer behavior and past interactions to enhance first-call resolution rates by predicting customers' needs and proactively addressing them.
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This isn’t about discouraging customers from contacting you - quite the opposite, really. It’s about providing them with various tools to reduce the need for them to do so in the first place. And if they have to reach out, offering channels that, first and foremost, are easy to use, suit their preferences, and allow them to get the answers they need quickly. With these strategic changes, utilities can slash call center wait times, transforming their customer service experience in the process.
1. Bleu, Nicola, 29 Top Chatbot Statistics For 2023: Usage, Demographics, Trends, Blogging Wizard, October 2023.