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Published on 6th December 2023

Creating exceptional customer service in the Utility Sector, Arifa Chakera – Head of Utilities at Axiologik


The Utility Sector (both water and energy) is going through significant transition to meet the net zero targets and balance supply & demand, whilst addressing key challenges including legacy infrastructure, customer vulnerability and low customer trust. Set against these challenges, the need for high-quality customer experience (CX) is becoming more important than ever.

After over 20 years in the Utility sector, I’ve recently been working in other sectors including the NHS, retail and manufacturing. Personally, it’s been interesting to see how these very different groups face similar problems and learn how they have addressed them. I believe the Utility industries can adopt these learnings to help accelerate their digital transformation. The opportunity exists to harness the power of AI and new tech to drive engagement up and improve CSAT / CMEX ratings, all whilst reducing the cost to serve.

Historically Customer Service (or previously termed as Call Centre) have not been considered as a key component part to enabling a sustainable (and profitable) business. This view is changing due to customer expectations of their experience of dealing with organisations, regulatory requirements, independent ratings and (potentially) fines. In the last two decades, I have seen positive changes within customer services strategies. These are aimed at trying to provide excellent and seamless service to meet expectations, whether paying a bill online, notifying for outage or a general enquiry, but there is more to do.
Customer expectations on service are elevated due to the exceptional service shaped by their digital interactions with companies like Amazon, Google, Netflix and Airbnb. These companies provide personalised and curated experiences using data based on users’ preferences on how and where they want to be communicated with. They have focused on aligning and optimising customer journeys, providing timely information, with clarity and ease.

In the utility sector, the balance of providing customer service delight and carefully rebuilding customer trust, whilst addressing common challenges such as population growth, the cost-of-living crisis, vulnerable customers and regulatory targets requires a shift in ways of working. Furthermore, call centres employees want to be empowered to provide a more holistic experience for their customers.

As customers are becoming more and more digitally native, companies need to rethink how they engage with customers, accelerating digital initiatives and adopting modern technologies that better serve digital customers.
4 effective ways to improve customer satisfaction whilst reducing volume of customer calls and cost to serve:

1. Enable effective customer self-service that is available 24×7, 365 days a year: customers can self-serve at a time and place that is most convenient for them. It makes it possible to support large numbers of customers at a significantly lower cost and it reduces the number of repetitive questions, freeing up staff to handle more complex requests. By promoting self-serve and developing an effective self-service platform in delivering accurate answers, results in both customers and companies seeing the value in self-service. Harvard Business Review has already indicated that 81% of customers prefer self-serve and this number is likely to continue to grow.

2. Build an AI-Enabled knowledge management system (KM) – Customers expect a timely and efficient service, and failure to resolve a problem can result in a poor customer experience. AI Enabled KM speeds up response times by making information easily accessible to self-serve customers and to agents. Without robust KM, customers will continue to use time-consuming emails and phone calls when seeking support. Forbes and CMSwire have highlighted that agents who use AI services handle 13.8% more customer inquiries per hour, achieve greater than 30% first call resolution and furthermore, there is an overall 40% reduction in agent training time.

3. Utilise AI to automate a broader range of customer inquiries – leveraging AI to automate the handling of unstructured customer communications such as e-mail is critical. Many companies receive significant number of emails, often incorporating multiple transactions and queries. These are typically manually processed (utilising office tools such as shared inboxes and response templates) presenting a high cost-to-serve and low response times, adversely impacting customer experience. The opportunity to harness the power of Artificial Intelligence and Case Management to handle data at speed, increase efficiency and empower agents to focus on what matters most – improving customer relationships. Leading companies have been able to automatically process and respond to 30% of incoming emails (straight-through), without the need of an agent and have accelerated response times of the remaining 70% of emails with AI-generated suggestions for agents.

4. Drive a true Omnichannel Experience – by providing integrations across multiple communication channels such as phone, email, chat and social media to give customer support agents a comprehensive view of a customer’s interactions. This enables call centre staff to answer queries more efficiently and effectively, i.e., if a customer first searches on the website, or tries to pay a bill before contacting the call centre, the agent will have a full view of this. Companies that have delivered a strong omnichannel customer service strategy have enabled agents to spend 60% less time on calls whilst being able to scale up quickly to address an emergency and continue to meet customer satisfaction scores above 85%.

Despite providing society with the critical essentials they need for life, energy and utility companies still have a long way to go to deliver customer experience that delights.

Delivering a “human touch” experience remains vital and fundamental to a customer’s needs. Enhancing this through the utilisation of technology will not only drive efficiency but will create lifetime customer value if executed correctly. The future of customer experience is filled with exciting new opportunities to transform how services are delivered. By leveraging these technologies and embracing a customer-centric mindset, companies can position themselves as digital leaders, driving customer loyalty, supporting sustainability goals and increasing long-term profitability.

Arifa Chakera CEng MICE – Head of Utilities at Axiologik

Interested in hearing more? – then why not catch up with the

WUN for All session- Utilities as a Service–What needs to change to make this happen.

Energy as a Service has become a common phrase in the sector but what does it mean? What, in reality needs to happen for the move away from commodity focus to service focus ? In a SMART enabled world energy services could be the step change for transitioning away from a cost per Kwh to a fixed fee all in energy service.

Panel discussion with
Ritika Wattan – Head of Strategy at SSE Energy Customer Solution
Richard Bartlett – VP Sales & marketing at Smartest Energy Business
Pete Nisbet – Managing Director at Edenseven
Emma Keedwell – Head of Innovation at Vodafone Business UK.

or catch up on the discussion around Building customer trust in the water industry

Sarah McMath, WUN Board member and CEO of MOSL
Chris Pollard, Director of Customer Services, Thames Water.
Karma Loveday, Editor of the Water Report
Dr Heather Smith Senior Lecturer in Water Governance Cranfield University.