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Adapting to Uncertainty: The Importance of Flexible Customer Service in the Energy Industry

The Ukraine war of 2022 sent shockwaves throughout the energy markets in Europe, leading to a significant price hike for electricity and gas. As a result, energy companies had to address a range of new challenges, including a surge in customer inquiries, raising contractor costs, and new governmental regulations aimed at mitigating the impact of the price increase for retail customers. In anticipation of an uncertain future, in 2021 Vattenfall Europe Sales GmbH in Germany decided to boost and take proactive further steps to futureproof its customer service interactions through automation and innovation.

Process customer inquiries automatically

The activities can be broken down into several areas of activity. One major part is starting to implement a new multilingual self-service Interactive Voice Response (IVR) solution in parallel to the already existing old one. This technology enables customers to access a range of self-service options deflecting the volume of incoming customer inquiries from agents to voice robots. Implementation started successfully in English and is currently expanded to German. By using powerdata’s solution, Vattenfall Europe Sales GmbH leverages the power of Amazon Lex for natural language understanding and processing (NLU/NLP) to ensure a free flowing and ever expanding user experience for callers who want to quickly provide a new meter reading, change their bank information or monthly payment. The design process is available using a user friendly flow designer with preconfigurable actions and integrations to provide non-technical business departments with an even faster go to production time.  

Take the strain off your customer service through digital channels

Additionally, Vattenfall adds value-driven features to the new IVR to improve the conversion of customers to digital channels. By offering channel-shifts to the customer service portal as well as callbacks, the company aims to shift a significant proportion of its daily call volume to digital channels further reducing the workload of customer service agents to complicated cases that can’t be automated. Major elements of the these new capabilities are powered by power:connect and rely on the API-integration to Vattenfall’s backend. Being a key part of power:connect, the solution employs technology that uses machine learning algorithms to recognize the intent of customer emails and documents, enabling to automate many routine tasks and streamline its customer service operations.

Vattenfall Europe puts digital customer service in the spotlight

By starting to implementing Vattenfall Europe Sales GmbH set themselves on a trajectory to significantly improve customer service interactions, reduce cost, and further improve efficiency.

“As we look to the future, it is clear that automation and innovation will play an increasingly important role in the energy industry, enabling companies to better serve their customers and adapt to changing market conditions. We just have taken the first small steps on our journey to embrace digital customer service at the core of our offering and it’s still a journey to go.“ says Holger Jans, Director of Business Processes & Sourcing at Vattenfall Europe Sales GmbH.

In conclusion, the year 2022 highlighted the importance of preparedness and innovation in the energy sector. Companies like Vattenfall that took proactive steps to improve their customer service interactions were better positioned to weather the storm and emerge stronger on the other side.

To illustrate how a solution can save cost to serve (CTS), we will assume the following parameters for an exemplary utility company:

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Amount of retail customers: 1.000.000
Phone calls per month: 50.000 (5% of total customers)
Duration per phone call: 15 Minutes
CTS per hour: 30 €

  • every 10% increase in successful intent recognition resulting in automatic processing in the IVR yields potential savings of roughly 130.000 Euro per year
  • every 10% increase in deflection from voice to online portal yields potential savings of roughly 150.000 Euro per year
  • every 10% increase of automated inbound email and letter processing yields potential savings of roughly 250.000 Euro per year

The numbers above vary based on the number of customers and the call and email volumes for the customer service – but the most important aspect is, that these measures are not limited by improving one single aspect by 10%. They all add to the goal of automating the big part of actionable items that don’t need the agent’s attention.

If you are looking for ways to improve and speed up your customer service, please reach out to us. We will happy to discuss your needs and requirements.