Today's utility customers expect deeper engagement and long-term relationships with suppliers. The increase in smart home management reflects their desire for better energy management and understanding of utility consumption.
Simply delivering electricity is no longer enough; customers seek cost reduction, energy conservation, sustainability, and access to new products. With digital capabilities, personalised services and a wider product range are in demand.
Energy-industry clients recognise the need to prioritise customer needs and enhance the overall experience in competitive deregulated markets.
It comes as no surprise that chatbots are rapidly gaining popularity in the utility industry, and according to Gartner's predictions for 2022, they are expected to become a daily interaction for 70% of white-collar employees by the end of this year.
This technology uses artificial intelligence (AI) and other automation technologies to communicate with customers via chat, automating routine tasks and providing quick and convenient support. As utilities look to enhance customer service and optimise operations, chatbots have become a critical tool.
In this article, we will explore the following:
The utility industry has undergone significant changes in recent years, and customer expectations have evolved.
Customers now demand personalised experiences and instant access to answers on various topics, such as service, upgrades, clean energy alternatives, prepaid billing, home energy management, and real-time outage reporting. They expect swift responses to their inquiries, preferably through messaging channels. A study conducted by Salesforce revealed that 68% of users prefer chatbots due to their quick response time.
To keep up with these demands, utility companies are increasingly embracing chatbots - computer programs that employ artificial intelligence and natural language processing to simulate human conversation. Chatbots offer utilities the ability to deliver prompt and convenient support to customers, automate repetitive tasks, and enhance the overall user experience.
While companies in the utility sector often employ AI technology for operational tasks and data collection, they tend to overlook the significance of effective customer communication.
To thrive in this competitive landscape, companies must prioritise customer satisfaction by investing in customer service bots.
By leveraging the power of chatbot technology, utility companies can better meet the evolving needs of their customers and deliver the seamless experiences they seek.
1. Inaccurate self-meter readings: Meter readings are essential for billing, and inaccuracies can lead to incorrect billing amounts and disputes.
Chatbots can help customers submit accurate meter readings through conversational prompts and guided forms, reducing the risk of errors. In some cases, chatbots only ask for a meter photo in which information is being automatically extracted. That way, the process is quicker and more accurate.
2. Payment issues: Late payments, billing errors, and payment disputes are common issues in the utility industry. Since the energy crisis peaked in 2022, billing errors have been more common than ever. This is the result of inaccurate meter readings, which leads customers to pay more or less than they’ve consumed.
Chatbots can assist customers in resolving payment issues by providing detailed billing information and assisting with payment arrangements, reducing the number of disputes.
3. Poor customer service
The utility industry often receives high call volumes from customers, which can lead to long wait times and frustration. Additionally, customers may complain about inaccurate bills due to human error in meter readings.
Chatbots can help solve these problems by providing an efficient and accessible customer service channel that can handle a large volume of inquiries simultaneously. They can also provide accurate and real-time data analysis, reducing the potential for human error in meter reading and billing.
By offering a convenient and reliable customer service solution, chatbots can improve the overall customer experience and satisfaction in the utility industry.
4. Customer switching
In the utility industry, poor customer service often leads to customers switching providers. Chatbots can reduce customer switching by providing immediate and accurate responses to customer inquiries and concerns. This improves the overall customer experience and helps to build trust and loyalty.
Offering self-service options, chatbots are commonly categorised into three types: rule-based, AI, and hybrid. Although they’re different in the way they’re programmed, these chatbots enable utilities to provide quick and efficient customer service. Hybrid chatbots combine these technologies, using AI to handle complicated demands and rule-based to ensure accuracy and consistency.
It's important to note that while chatbots fall under the umbrella of conversational AI, not all chatbots are considered as such. Rule-based chatbots, for example, utilize specific keywords and other language cues to trigger predetermined responses that are not developed using conversational AI technology.
Rule-based chatbots, also referred to as button-based, menu-based, or basic chatbots, may seem rudimentary although their functionality is anything but basic. They operate on pre-set rules to guide customers towards solutions in a decision-tree workflow, providing the quickest path to resolution.
Like navigating through an automated phone system, customers can select from a series of options, giving them the power to choose their own journey.
These chatbots are valuable tools for addressing FAQs and resolving customer issues, making them an essential asset in the utility industry.
AI-based chatbots utilise complex Machine Learning models that enable them to learn autonomously from data and generate appropriate responses to queries. Through the use of Machine Learning models, AI-based chatbots can recognise patterns in the way users pose questions, even when expressed in different languages or phrased in unique ways.
These chatbots can discern the context and intent of a question before generating answers, leveraging natural language processing to respond to more complex inquiries.
Natural language processing (NLP) is a key component that facilitates AI chatbots' ability to comprehend and answer human questions. By utilising machine learning and the capabilities of AI, chatbots are able to become smarter and more effective over time.
Virtual assistants powered by AI are becoming increasingly popular in the utility industry, allowing customers to interact with companies more efficiently and engagingly. These AI chatbots use natural language processing and machine learning to understand customer intent and respond in a human-like way. They can assist with a range of tasks, from answering billing questions to helping customers monitor their energy usage.
By providing a more personalized and interactive customer experience, virtual assistants are helping utility companies improve customer satisfaction and reduce support costs.
One of the latest developments in AI chatbots is conversational AI. This technology recognises and responds to both speech and text inputs. It is widely used in customer service to provide buyers with a more human-like interaction. The communication can happen through a chatbot in a messaging channel or a voice assistant on the phone.
With the help of deep learning algorithms, conversational AI utilises vast amounts of training data to determine user intent and gain a better understanding of natural language.
A hybrid chatbot combines rule-based and AI-driven approaches to provide a versatile conversational and personalised experience. It uses predefined rules for specific scenarios and frequently asked questions while incorporating AI capabilities like natural language processing and machine learning. This enables the chatbot to handle a wide range of inquiries and adapt to variations in user language.
By combining these technologies, hybrid chatbots offer an improved user experience. They leverage AI to handle complex requests while maintaining accuracy and consistency through rule-based systems. The popularity of hybrid chatbots is on the rise, particularly in customer support engagements, and this upward trend is expected to continue.
When evaluating chatbot options for the utility industry, it's crucial to assess your company's specific needs and objectives.
For smaller utility companies or those with specific goals, rule-based chatbots can be a suitable and practical solution. While AI chatbots are generally more sophisticated, they may not always be necessary in this sector.
Rule-based chatbots work well when you have a clear goal to guide users towards, intend to utilise the chatbot primarily as an FAQ resource, need the chatbot to redirect users to human agents for complex inquiries, or lack a substantial number of sample conversations to train the chatbot.
However, the best choice ultimately depends on the desired functionality of your utility company. For those seeking basic functionality, rule-based chatbots offer a cost-effective option, as they entail lower development expenses compared to AI-powered bots.
Nonetheless, if your objective is to achieve advanced real-time analytics and efficient decision-making based on customer data, investing in AI chatbots would be more advantageous.
AI chatbots can provide the analytical capabilities required to extract valuable insights and make data-driven decisions in the utility sector.
Alternatively, for utility companies desiring a combination of structured responses and AI capabilities, hybrid chatbots offer a versatile solution. These hybrid chatbots integrate rule-based and AI-driven approaches, allowing for personalised interactions while maintaining control and accuracy.
By thoughtfully considering the specific goals and requirements of your utility company, you can determine whether a rule-based, AI, or hybrid chatbot is the most appropriate choice to enhance customer engagement and support in the utility industry.
Blicker can be described as a hybrid chatbot with elements of both rule-based and AI-driven approaches. The conversation flow in Blicker is primarily decision-tree-based, representing the rule-based aspect. However, when it comes to responding to meter images, Blicker employs AI-based techniques, indicating the integration of AI capabilities within the chatbot's functionality.
Furthermore, Blicker stands out as it has the ability to handle both text and image inputs, which is not a common feature in all chatbots.
Overall, Blicker combines rule-based messaging with AI-generated information and utilizes image processing for photos, showcasing a hybrid approach that leverages the strengths of both rule-based and AI-driven chatbots.
Blicker's Chatbot revolutionises customer engagement in utilities by enabling effortless self meter readings, streamlined processes, and instant assistance.
It empowers customers with automatic data capture, instant billing, and the option to switch to live chat for personalised support.
By incorporating Blicker's chatbot, many customer interactions can be available 24/7 and handled in automated and efficient ways.
This approach reduces service costs while granting customers control over when, how, and where they engage with their utility provider.
Additionally, by offering the option of human assistance when needed, a balanced combination of human and non-human interactions can be achieved.