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An Agile Approach to Customer Communication in Utilities During Times of Crisis
CX Expert Speaks To Doxim On How Utility Communications Transformed During The Pandemic
Doxim recently chatted to Douwe Busschops, a Director of Customer Experience in the utility industry about how customer communication in utilities changed during the pandemic.
Doxim: As a customer experience expert in the utility sector, we wanted to get your take on how utility communications shifted through the pandemic. What are your thoughts on how utilities continued to service customers through the disruption and how your utility changed its communications approach?
Douwe: Yes, it has been quite a whirlwind. Of course, the primary focus was to ensure the continuation of services to the communities we serve. Water is an essential service and the pandemic meant an extra emphasis on washing hands and cleaning. We needed to reassure customers that water would flow and there would be no shutoffs.
We also had to make a lot of changes such as stop face to face services, like inspections and meter changes, which usually take place at customer homes. This had a massive implication in terms of educating customers on what these changes meant.
We also had to transition our call center so that customer service agents could work from home.
Doxim: The fact that utilities are always ready for the next snowstorm or hurricane – do you think this helped you deal with the transition? And how did you manage to get all your customer service people working from home so quickly?
Douwe: As the implications of the pandemic became clearer, we had to rapidly move our customer service teams to work from home. Many utilities were prepared for remote working based on their business continuity plans in place for natural disasters. But this crisis is different.
Our technology investment in cloud computing helped a lot. Fortunately, we had already invested in a cloud-based system, so we could do this quickly. For a call center still running on hard phones, it would have been impossible to move fast enough. We are proud of how seamless the transition was – we have over 100 agents now supplying services from their kitchen counters or living rooms.
Doxim: You should be proud. When you look at other industries like banking and insurance, they struggled to make the change to WFH. You mentioned communication. Have you seen a shift in the communication to your customers during this period?
Douwe: In the beginning, there was a massive need for information and reassurance. No one knew what was going on and what would happen. We were working out what to communicate on a day-to-day basis. For example, water is critical for cleaning and hygiene. We had to tell our consumers that COVID could not spread via water and the product is safe.
Some of the communities we service went into severe lockdown. We still had to maintain the critical infrastructure which meant field crews had to go out to do maintenance work. They faced some backlash from the public and we had to educate them that these workers were doing critical work.
Many of our customers lost their ability to pay their bills. Part of our early messaging included recognizing this and removing some of the collections processes that were used pre-COVID. We wanted customers to know that we would not turn their water off.
Doxim: What do you think is appropriate for the next phase of communication?
Douwe: I think other industries could actually learn something from how utilities managed communication through the crisis. Usually, it’s the other way round, with utilities catching up to banks and other providers when it comes to CX.
The crisis has and will continue to act as an accelerator. Trends that we were already seeing will accelerate. Personalized services, targeted communication, making sure messages are relevant to individual situations.
Previously messaging was very broadcast focused – one message to all consumer households. We are already seeing a shift in this – the desire to offer more tailored messaging – helping customers with solutions that are relevant to them. The utility industry will continue to focus on supporting low-income customers. Making sure we offer solutions that support them.
Thank you to Douwe for his time and insight into communication in the utility sector.
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