The real-time availability of data is bringing new opportunities to utilities to optimize the grid but the ability to translate the value of this data to the customer experience is lagging, says Kris Hillstrand SVP Technology & Operations at India-based HCL, in an interview with Engerati at European Utility Week 2014.
However, if the risk can be removed from customer service, then utility investments in it will come to compete very attractively with those for new infrastructure, he comments.
Hillstrand believes the expectation of customer service has been set by the big companies such as Amazon and Apple, which “meet customers where they want to be met.” They communicate with customers not just via the traditional channels of voice and paper, but with other means such as SMS, chat, even social media. Utilities have started to understand this but so far such practices have not been deeply adopted, and where they have the approach has generally been fragmented.
Transparency and anticipation
Hillstrand says that utilities also need to become more transparent in their approach to customers. For example – and following the example of UPS, which has broken down its package delivery process into a few key steps for customers – utilities could during an outage show where all the trucks are in the neighbourhood.
“Transparency shows a level of maturity and confidence – and with transparency comes customer empathy,” says Hilllstrand.
The notion of ‘anticipation’ is also very important for utilities, Hillstrand continues, noting that customer service companies anticipate need based on what their customers are “experiencing and expressing.”
“If you can meet unspoken demand you extend from being a commodity provider to being a comfort and convenience provider.”
Skills and tools
To achieve these attributes, utilities need both the right skillsets as well as the appropriate tools, Hillstrand states. They need to adopt changes in culture, systems, and the people who work with their customers in order to reduce performance risk – whether internal or outsourced.