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Contact center employees in electricity companies and other utilities certainly know that a storm outside causes quite a storm inside too. The last few winters were pretty tough here in Finland and the extreme weather conditions and winter storms caused power outages affecting thousands of people and lasting days, even weeks.

Of course, the customers of electricity companies were furious. How is it possible that this is happening in our civilized world in the 21th century?  Why aren’t we informed? What is happening? Why don't they even answer the phone? Many people felt that they were left alone in the dark –both literally and figuratively. The actual power outage was already bad enough, but the communication –or the lack of it –got people really upset.

It has been estimated that due to the climate change there will be even heavier storms in the future. Both utilities and we as customers need to figure out how to minimize the damage. The utilities in Finland learned their lesson and they have been working hard to fix things and to be better prepared. Most improvements are not visible to customers at all, but on the communications and customer service side the improvements are more visible. 

Here are three simple but powerful customer service improvements I have observed lately in electricity companies:

  1. Pro-active communication. Last winter I got an SMS from my electricity company saying that a bad storm is about to arrive to Southern Finland, arrangements have been made to minimize the damage, and there is more information on the website. With a multichannel communications solution this is a simple thing to do and great customer service.  After the SMS I know to be prepared too: I can buy some candles and water and make sure my mobile phone is fully charged.
  2. Automated announcements. When I call my electricity company, they have an interactive voice response system (IVR) and I can choose whether I want to talk to customer service or if I want to hear the latest announcements of power outages. I can choose to hear the announcements from my region, so I hear that they already know about the situation in my city, they are fixing it and they estimate the problem to be solved within 2 hours. Great, that was all I needed to know, now I can go and light a few candles and put some fire in the fire place.
  3. During call peaks, engaging employees from outside contact center. When it is stormy and there are outages throughout the country, there will also be huge peaks in contact center, even though the proactive communication and IVR can reduce a great amount of the calls. During peak times it is essential to be able to add new staff to the customer service from other departments and other locations. With software based contact center solution can be done easily, and by giving the employees the access to the needed systems and giving them a basic training, they will be a great help in such situations.

Undoubtedly, there will be snow and storms in Finland next winter too. And most probably there will be some storms in contact centers as well. But I am sure that the storms in contact centers will be smaller, due to all the improvements utilities have done and are constantly doing. Contact center technology cannot calm the storms outside, but it can definitely help level off the storms inside. 

If you are interested in other ways of improving utility customer service, I could recommend this webcast with SourceGas.