Call deflection is an important part of your contact center operations. By reducing the number of calls your contact center receives, you’ll likely:

  • Reduce operating costs
  • Increase CSAT
  • Increase employee satisfaction

Through the E Source 2023 Contact Center Performance study, we know customers overwhelmingly choose to contact their utility by phone. We also know that live-agent phone calls are more expensive than interactive voice response (IVR) system calls, a self-service option.

And even further, we know that if a customer can’t resolve an issue via another channel, like the website, then they’ll likely follow up by phone, according to the E Source 2018 Residential Utility Customer Survey.

With an effective call-deflection strategy, contact center agents can spend more time focusing on the customer experience rather than rushing to get through a backlog of calls. But how do you get there?

Improve FCR

Improving your FCR rate will help deflect calls. FCR is the measure of a utility’s ability to resolve a customer’s issue during the first contact, regardless of channel.

By improving your FCR rate, especially for self-service transactions, you’ll see fewer calls come into the contact center because your customers will be getting what they need through other channels.

Learn more about this important metric in our blog post Why FCR is a valuable metric for utility contact centers.

Improve your self-service options

Self-service transactions are crucial to your call-deflection strategy. If you don’t offer the right transactions or if you make it difficult for customers to find and use self-service options, then you’re missing a huge opportunity. Inefficiency on one channel negatively affects CSAT.

In fact, we know self-service correlates to higher satisfaction. Through the E Source US Residential Customer Insights Center, we found that customers who used self-service features almost always had higher satisfaction with their electric utility than those who didn’t use self-service features.

But it’s not just about offering self-service. You have to do it right. If a customer has an excellent experience in a specific channel, that’s the channel they’ll return to. For example, if they try the website, get frustrated, and then get help from the contact center, they’ll return to the contact center.

Here are some ways you can improve your utility’s self-service options:

Start simple. Paying bills and reporting outages are often the easiest places for utilities and customers to start with self-service. Payment arrangements, which can be a sensitive topic for customers, are also an excellent self-service candidate.

Use customer feedback. Ask customers what self-service transactions they want. You can also use posttransaction surveys to ask customers how they tried to resolve their issue before calling. This will help point you to where you need to improve the self-service journey.

Use data. Look at your contact center data to figure out the most common call types. Then determine whether the IVR or website can manage them.

You can also use data analytics and journey mapping to understand what customers are trying to do at various stages of a transaction and see where they’re failing.

Utilize hold messages. You can direct callers on hold to the website to complete their transaction. But note that this will drive up abandonment rates.

Offer incentives. Waive deposits and offer rebates to customers who complete online transactions such as signing up for an online account, paperless billing, budget billing, and other programs.

Design the website for usability. Consider the user experience and user interface of your website. If it’s easy to use, customers will use it. But if it’s difficult and confusing, customers will choose other channels.

Keep these four elements in mind when designing the utility website:

  • Appearance. Does the design look appealing?
  • Findability. Can customers easily find the self-service feature?
  • Functionality. Does everything work correctly or are customers running into errors?
  • Content. Is everything the customer needs to know there and is it easy to understand?

For design advice on specific website features, check out the E Source Utility Website Design Center, available to members of the E Source E-Channel Service. This tool includes design guides on 11 utility website features, including some that are prime candidates for self-service such as reporting outages, making payments, and managing energy usage.

Make it easy for customers to enroll in high-bill alerts

Billing issues are a common reason customers call their utility contact center. When they call because of high bills, they’re often stressed and looking to their utility for help. But you could deflect some of these calls with a well-designed program for high-bill alerts.

Our report 5 tips for creating an effective high-bill alert program explains multiple strategies for getting more program participation, including making enrollment simple with a preference center. A good preference center is so easy to navigate that your customers can self-enroll in your high-bill alerts program. Giving customers the ability to enroll and customize notifications in one place empowers them to make decisions without calling your contact center.

Needs hands-on help with your billing experience? E Source Management Consulting is your answer. To see how E Source helped Ameren develop a digital billing and payment strategy, check out our case study Billing and payments with Ameren.

Implement chatbots on your website

As we mentioned earlier, when a customer fails to complete a transaction on their own, they’ll likely call your contact center. Chatbots can deflect some of these calls, guiding customers through using self-service tools and directing them to the resources they need.

If your utility isn’t already using chatbots, you’re going to need high-level support for this initiative. Frame the chatbot as a complementary channel that can answer customers’ simple questions and free up agents to handle more-complex interactions.

For example, one of the interactions your chatbot could help customers with is moving service, a relatively straightforward request. Through the E Source 2021 Digital Metrics Survey, we found that customers successfully started service online only 36% of the time on average, according to data from six utilities. This means customers failed starting service online roughly two-thirds of the time. Having a chatbot available during these interactions could increase the success rate.

Before you implement a chatbot, you need to figure out where your contact center needs the most help. Use this information to build your business case for how a chatbot could solve some of these problems. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Why, when, and how are customers contacting us?
  • Are our existing channels handling customers’ needs?
  • Do some customers need extra attention?
  • What are the most obvious cases where a chatbot could help us respond to customer questions?
  • Do we see high-volume or recurring customer service issues, like bill payment, moving, or outages?

As you answer these questions, you’ll find the high-volume, low-complexity interactions that chatbots are perfect to assist customers with. Then, review your contact center data to see how many calls you can eliminate if the chatbot helped customers complete these interactions.

Become a member of the E Source E-Channel Service

As a member of the E Source E-Channel Service, you’ll gain access to the support and resources you need to ensure your online presence can keep up with customers’ rising demands. We’ll help you develop successful business cases for upgrading your website and self-service offerings. With the service, you get:

  • Guidance on improving the customer experience across web, mobile, chat, and other common digital channels
  • Help measuring the performance of your digital channels, optimizing digital self-service, and evaluating existing and emerging digital channels
  • Support and resources you need to make sure your online presence can outpace what customers expect
  • A better understanding of how your website compares to more than 80 other utilities with data from our exclusive E Source Digital Metrics Survey to help you investigate how customers engage with your digital platforms

Contact us to learn more about an E Source membership.