Yes, It’s Possible: Happier Customers And A Lower Cost-To-Serve

Greg Peterson

Imagine a typical young customer, mobile phone in hand. He loves his phone. He loves shopping with his phone, he loves posting photos on his phone, and he can’t live without his favorite apps. This young man wants to do everything on his phone – except make a phone call.

So when he realizes that he must actually dial a number to speak with your utility’s customer service department about an issue, he’s automatically peevish. It’s your job to keep him (and all your other customers) happy. But it’s also your job to keep cost-to-serve at a minimum. Let me tell you how it’s possible to do both.

First, be aware of common misperceptions

Don’t try to take on a customer-facing project in a piecemeal manner. Building a single mobile-payment app, for example, might seem like a quick way to build customer advocacy. But I’ve seen this approach fail because a standalone app is often just that – a one-off effort that only makes a small part of the customer’s life easier.

Instead, think holistically. Create a way for customers to be able to pay the bill and request services (including start, stop, and transfer). Give them a way to interact for appointments (such as confirming, reschedule, cancel and so on) using SMS/text, email and “robocalls.” This end-to-end approach is more than just a one-off app; it’s the single best way to build rapport with your customers – and it can happen only if you have real-time data underpinning your efforts. After all, building the app, the SMS/text, the email, and the voice script is the easy part. Having the automated workflows and analytics is the hard part, because you need the ability to do all of these things in native mobile apps that operate on the same platform.

Also, because your organization is likely quasi-government regulated and thus must make its money through return on capital, you might be tempted to say, “I can’t afford to do this in a big way because of the operational expense.” But be aware that with the right approach, you can often structure a capital project with a high annual operational expense reduction. You can often prove to stakeholders that yours is a self-funded project and that customers will be more satisfied. For those of you who must go to regulators to get rate increases, this also puts you in a better position to drive your agenda, rather than endlessly discussing the topic of customer-service complaints.

Use the full power of technology to your advantage

Let’s face it—in our industry, people usually call only when they have an issue. One way to improve customer service is to give them fewer reasons to call. A new wave of real-time data technology can delight your customers and keep cost-to-serve at a minimum. SAP S/4HANA does a great job of this. I recently worked with a natural gas supplier who took a holistic approach. The company invested in intelligent grid technology so that their customers could benefit from more-reliable service, faster restorations after outages and reduced cost. In the most recent report from the American Customer Satisfaction Index, this gas supplier emerged as the new leader among investor-owned utilities with a four percent climb to a rating of 82 – the largest gain for the category and the second year of improvement.

Technology for your business: a lower cost-to-serve

When you use the full power of technology to your advantage, the results can be remarkable. From a business standpoint, you can reduce inbound calls with targeted proactive notification (such as for planned outages). You can deflect calls to low-cost self-service channels like intelligent IVR, chatbots and listening agents in which AI uses natural language processing to resolve issues. And if someone does need to contact your call center, you can increase the productivity of your agents, because they automatically know not just who is calling, but also the likely reason for the call.

Remember too that technology drives integrated work management. Cable-company customers can see on their app who is coming, when the service person will arrive and even whether outside conditions or traffic will impact arrival time. So if your field technician is dispatched to service a gas furnace, guess what? The field technician has same information as the call center. There’s an app with service timing – and the app integrates customer data with the information from the field tech.

Technology for your customers: pleasant surprises

From a customer satisfaction standpoint, you can be uniquely positioned to deliver surprisingly proactive, helpful information. Your customers can get proactive notifications and updates. For example, if their power goes out and they’re sitting in the dark, they can learn through a text alert when power is likely to be restored, when the outage was initially reported and how many of their neighbors have been similarly affected. It’s easy for customers to opt-in to notification services during times of trouble, such as flooding and fire emergencies. And for customers who are prone to be late with their payments, you can send a proactive notification that’s perceived as a friendly reminder. When an overdue invoice is paid, it’s even possible to reconnect power without the need for the customer to phone the call center.

So take action to investigate the power of SAP HANA. Get a 360-degree view of each customer, served up to various stakeholders in real time. Your customers – and your business leaders – will thank you for it.

Learn more

To take advantage of all the benefits described in this post, request your SAP HANA Impact assessment today. You can also visit IBM at booth #612 at SAPPHIRE NOW 2018 and talk to IBM-SAP experts – check out our event website to see what we’re doing at the event.


Greg Peterson

About Greg Peterson

Greg Peterson is Vice President at IBM Global Business Services. He leads the SAP Practice For Energy and Utilities in the US. He has a 20 year plus track record of Client, People and Business success in large enterprise application consulting, sales, industry based Go-to-Market (GTM) and project delivery. Greg is a proven Business Architect that drives Digital Reinvention using a value based agile strategy, operating model and process design methodology.