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Author's profile photo Chad Leonard

‘Alexa, Help Me Serve My Utility Customers’

It’s official, folks! According to the US Census Bureau, Millennials have officially surpassed Baby Boomers and are now the largest generation in the U.S.   Although this is the first time we’ve officially recognized the demographic shift, companies across the globe have been adjusting to this swing for nearly a decade. With the increasing population of 18-35-year-olds, so too comes the increasing buying power of this critical segment of consumers.

For industries focused on customer service, this milestone and the associated implications continue to be verified in the changing demands on customer interactions.   An increased reliance on self-service, channels which feature intuitive technology as well as streamlined experiences continue to become increasingly popular. For utilities, this often equates to more intelligent IVR interactions, additional self-service options as well as more proactive outbound communications from the utility.

It is only a matter of time before additional innovations in perhaps unrelated industries once again transform customer expectations, making todays innovation insufficient. As an example, Apps, once thought of as the pinnacle of ‘cool’ communication channels, are now often shunned by the very customers they were intended to delight. In fact, research shows that only 25% of apps are opened more than once1. As we continue to prepare for future customer expectations, hints at future demands are beginning to surface. A common theme seems to be the use of Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence (AI), particularly when applied to conversational applications.

IDC and SAP recently teamed to understand the potential impact of conversational applications in the workplace. The survey of 1000 IT and LoB professionals revealed that over 70% of companies see natural language interfaces as a highly important technology for their organizations. While almost 20% of the companies use Virtual Digital Assistants today, over 65% are actively evaluating or considering it for the next 2-3 years.

We are already beginning to see this technology expand from the use of personal digital assistants such as Alexa and Cortana to additional ways to serve our customers. Enterprise Bots, or chatbots, can assist with lightweight tasks such as retrieving bill amounts, accepting payments and getting service order confirmations. Transitioning to AI is almost certainly the next level of this self-service application, as systems become more intelligent and proactive. Embedding this technology in self-service channels such as the IVR, web and mobile will allow systems to learn from each and every interaction in order to understand human behavior and improve responsiveness. In doing so, costs will get driven out of the business, reducing the O&M of each interaction from an average of 10 dollars for a voice call to less than 10 cents for self-service, all while increasing customer satisfaction.

At SAP, we continue to leverage such teams as our Innovation Center Network to stay on the forefront of shaping and adapting to these new technologies. Utilities of all sizes can leverage these services to provide the next generation of customer experience to, well, the next generation of utility customers.

Millennials are here. Are your communication channels ready?

Chad Leonard serves as an SAP Utilities Industry Advisor, assisting utilities across North America with digital transformation planning, execution and value realization.



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