Want a CX Crystal Ball? Look No Further Than the UK Utilities Sector

Guest Blog: Martin Taylor, Deputy CEO at Content Guru. #AIWeek2021

The corporate survival mindset triggered by the global health pandemic has stimulated new ways of innovating and provided a blueprint for service improvement across all industries.

Times of crisis and disruption have always spurred both ingenuity and necessary experimentation – driving suddenly-motivated organizations to work at speed and develop solutions to challenges across multiple fronts simultaneously.

Shaking up organizational lassitude

Contrast this new-found agility with the classic business-as-usual environment. Here innovation proceeds at a slow pace, driven by a range of conflicting factors towards the broad goal of competitive advantage. With corporate stakeholders demanding in-year results and minimized risk profiles, the central performance indicators are return-on-investment and low impact on operations.

Peacetime budgets favour those initiatives with a rock-solid business case, generally meaning other organizations will have proven the idea already. Meanwhile, innovation in new product or service development is informed by retrospectively-scoped research to identify demand for new ways of doing things.

All too often, in times of BAU, invention and agility become unwanted sources of risk for a stretched set of resources and working capital. Toiling away in silos, product development teams slowly iterate and re-iterate ideas in line with organizational culture and pace, whilst more tactically important initiatives consume any spare oxygen.

All too often, what start out as fresh new ideas arrive years late as finished products, diluted to the point where their positive impact is minimal.

As the last 12 months have demonstrated, it sometimes takes an external threat to jolt the business from its lassitude and onto a war footing that prioritizes radical change across multiple fronts.

The trigger for agile and rapid innovation

A recent global survey of senior executives by McKinsey highlights how the COVID-19 crisis has stimulated companies to accelerate their introduction of new technology capabilities by seven years.

This research also confirms the rapid shift to communicating with customers though digital channels, with three times as many respondents reporting at least 80% of their interactions are now digital.

Confronted by the pressing need to enable remote working models and respond to evolving customer needs, senior managers report their companies moved 40 times more quickly than they thought possible before the pandemic.

Leaders also began demolishing organizational silos to tap into the full power and potential of their workforce. In doing so, they created the foundations for continued innovation over the coming years. The question now is: how will organizations seize this opportunity?

Pursuing a common goal

The pandemic forced businesses to refocus customer experience (CX) on digital and self-service, and compelled them to rethink what customer care really means.

With consumer behavior irrevocably changed by recent events, the ways in which businesses use technology to improve customer interactions and brand relationships from now on will prove pivotal for commercial and reputational survival in a new consumer landscape of fragile loyalty and easy switching.

One thing is for sure: consumer sentiment is already turning against businesses which fail to meet the challenge of delivering digitally and anticipating needs. Conversely, rich prizes await those who succeed in creating and evolving the right customer experience.

CX in a digital age: how ‘boring’ utilities are leading the way

As a highly regulated sector subject to regular punitive fines for poor customer service delivery, UK utility firms have emerged as unlikely trail blazers when it comes to continually pushing the boundaries of innovation. Early adopters in proactive, self-service and human-serviced approaches to CX at scale, these organizations have highlighted the value of integrating communications with information systems, to ensure they engage effectively with diverse customers and respond consistently across every channel.

Today, their contact centers stand as shining examples of omnichannel customer engagement strategy in action, encompassing social media, text, chat, voice, web and mobile self-service at scale.

UK utilities have also become adept at anticipating needs, for example of vulnerable users, and managing how they cascade information to customers across all communication channels during unexpected events.

An integrated real-time approach to CX

Utility providers are deploying cloud-based solutions that integrate omnichannel communications with operational information systems to feed real-time fault progress data and live mapping information into consumer-facing contact services.

This makes it possible to send relevant information out to distressed customers in real time, including delivering live updates over the phone. Meanwhile, customers are automatically routed to the service specialist best able to handle their inquiry, in cases where further support is needed.

Such integrated functionality allows firms to detect when people search social media for information on major events – like a power surge in their area – and automatically forwards contact details to service agents, so they can provide personalized information and support.

Utility providers furthermore supplement their contact center resources in line with changing and predicted demands, using enhanced real-time analytics. For example, a power outage or major weather event will see social media volumes and phone traffic jump dramatically. Faced with these predictable situations, utilities spin up mini-contact centers on the fly, staffed by personnel from other departments in the business. Cloud-based technology gives these extra hands real-time access to the same accurate information as their contact center colleagues.

Integrating operational systems with contact center platforms ensures customers will receive the same level of service and information, whichever channel of communication they select, cutting down repeat calls and enhancing first contact resolution.

Again thanks to the cloud, all of these proven techniques are readily available for, and being rapidly adopted by, every kind of consumer-facing (or citizen-facing) organization.

Looking to the future

Oraganizations must not lose sight of the importance of human element in digital operations. Intelligent chatbots with live takeover functionality will be key to solving more complex issues. Similarly, giving service agents intelligible and actionable real-time feeds from information systems will be crucial to their making the right decisions immediately when enquiries are passed across.

Organizations need to ensure can respond with agility to changing customer behaviors and expectations. Those seeking an edge in CX would do well to profit from the hard-won experience of Britain’s utilities providers.



Martin Taylor, Deputy CEO at Content Guru


You can read all insights from techUK's AI Week here


Katherine Holden

Katherine Holden

Associate Director, Data Analytics, AI and Digital ID, techUK

Katherine joined techUK in May 2018 and currently leads the Data Analytics, AI and Digital ID programme. 

Prior to techUK, Katherine worked as a Policy Advisor at the Government Digital Service (GDS) supporting the digital transformation of UK Government.

Whilst working at the Association of Medical Research Charities (AMRC) Katherine led AMRC’s policy work on patient data, consent and opt-out.    

Katherine has a BSc degree in Biology from the University of Nottingham.

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