Will Engagement Alone Help Utilities Keep Customers?

Alabama Power has received top marks for its quick customer response time on social media channels but is it enough?
Published: Sun 11 May 2014

Conversocial, a New York based provider of customer service software, carried out a study of how American electric utilities respond to customers on social media channels.

Impressive response time

For a one-week period in mid-April, Conversocial tracked the Twitter mentions and replies of 20 leading utilities, and graded them on response rate and time until response.

Of the 20 companies tracked, Alabama Power ranked second in both categories. The company responded to 40 percent of customer mentions, nearly twice the rate of the group average. Alabama Power's average response time of 9 minutes and 25 seconds was far ahead of the 5-hour, 39-minute average. Only four of the surveyed utilities averaged less than an hour to answer a customer.

"It's impressive that Alabama Power is handling a heavy volume while also keeping up a swift response time," said Conversocial marketing director Mike Schneider.

Real conversations with customers

Mr Schneider looked beyond the raw data, and praised Alabama Power's commitment to keeping the conversation in the social space. He said many companies rely on automated replies that funnel customers to more traditional platforms.

"It's excellent that Alabama Power is having real conversations, and staying within channel," Schneider said. "A customer experience on Twitter should stay on Twitter, instead of pushing them to phone or email."

Alabama Power's social media response starts with a dedicated Online Service and Support team, with responsibility for both email inquiries and social media mentions from customers. The team anchors a schedule that covers Facebook and Twitter from 7 a.m. until 10 p.m. on weekdays, and 8 a.m. until 9 p.m. on weekends.

But, is it enough to keep the customer?

A number of customers are leaving their power producers to either sign up with another power producer for better prices and /or services or to leave the grid altogether to produce their own power. As clean energy technology costs plummet, as well as the installation costs, utilities will need to focus more on the customers’ needs-and beyond.

We have to ask whether a quick response time to customer queries is enough to keep the customer engaged. Probably not. While customer engagement may gain trust and keep a few customers engaged in the future, the lure of self-generated free solar power, along with energy storage solutions may just win the day.

It’s time for utilities to reach beyond excellent customer service in order to remain viable.

Further reading:

Conversocial-Re-Energizing The Customer Experience for Utilities with Social Customer Service