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December 29th, 2021

How Utilities Improve the Call Center Experience

Average call time increased for 45 percent of utility contact centers since agents began working from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Not only do higher call times decrease operational efficiency; they can also degrade the customer experience by driving up average wait time. “Waiting on hold” tops the list of consumer pain points with call centers, ahead of “difficulty finding the right resource” for an issue and “the need to repeat information.”[1]

In addition, utility contact centers have struggled to hire, train, and retain enough contact center agents. Over 40 percent of utility contact centers report increases in time, training, and associated costs required to onboard new agents since March 2020. Agent turnover has remained steady or increased in over 90 percent of utility contact centers during the same period. These staffing challenges compound contact center call volume efficiency issues.

The unfortunate convergence of higher call times, fewer staff, and widespread consumer frustration with waiting on hold may help to explain why the utilities industry has the second-lowest customer satisfaction score, just above government. More than one-third of utility consumers find customer service lacking.

To improve customer experience and operational efficiency without adequate staffing, utility contact centers require a different approach. Utilities that fail to innovate will continue to waste resources that could be invested in customer experience and lifetime value.

Why utilities struggle to improve customer experience

The interactive voice response (IVR) system can improve contact center efficiency by addressing simple questions and transactions. However, utilities often do not contain calls in the IVR: over 70 percent of utilities resolve less than 40 percent of calls within the IVR.

Low IVR containment wastes operating budget and frustrates consumers looking for quick resolution of simple matters. On average, every caller who transfers to a live agent costs utilities $10. These costs increase if calls transfer outside of automated routing. Efficient experiences with leading technology brands, such as Amazon, Airbnb, and Uber, raise customer expectations for experiences with other organizations, including utility providers.

Call center systems that do not know who is calling incur greater risk of increasing hold times, inefficient caller routing, and asking callers to repeat information. Many utilities—almost half—can identify only 60 percent of inbound callers via the calling phone number or customer-entered information. Without knowing caller identity, utilities cannot programmatically offer next-best actions that help consumers reach the right agent or system, or spare callers from having to repeat information supplied in previous interactions.

Consumer data is constantly changing. Approximately 45 million consumers change phone numbers in the U.S. each year. Consequently, 20 percent of a utility’s customer phone data is incorrect on average. Utilities may still have numbers on file from when customers opened new accounts years or decades ago. In other cases, customers may provide a landline at account creation but use a mobile phone when calling in. Similarly, a spouse or housemate of a customer may call about a household’s service from a number that is not associated with a customer record. The consequence remains the same in each scenario: utilities waste resources identifying unknown callers before providing service.

With the onset of competitive utility provider options, customer satisfaction has become a critical point of differentiation. However, utilities have no way to expedite and personalize service—let alone win or defend market share—without knowing who is on the other end of the call. To improve customer experience and operational efficiency, utilities must identify inbound callers with greater speed and accuracy.

Drive next-best experiences via enriched consumer identity

Nearly two-thirds of consumers explicitly favor brands that provide convenient and friendly experiences.[2]Forward-thinking utilities provide inbound callers with easier, more personalized service by identifying callers before they hear “hello.”

Identifying callers pre-answer requires an accurate and persistent record of customer phone numbers. When a call center receives a call from an unknown phone number, utilities can query that phone number against an authoritative identity platform to determine caller identity. This approach then associates unknown callers with established customer accounts.

Utilities can offer next-best actions when they know who is on the other end of the call, increasing the likelihood that callers will self-serve within the IVR, or expediting service for callers who need to speak with an agent. Agents see customer records at the first moment of connection and begin service immediately. Operational efficiency and customer experience improve in the short term, laying a foundation for increased customer loyalty and lifetime value over the long term.

How Neustar helps ensure that utilities customers receive prompt service

Neustar Inbound Authentication enables the convenient and personalized experiences that utility customers expect. When a utility’s CRM or CIS database does not recognize an inbound phone number, it sends an automatic query to Neustar’s identity platform, OneID®. The Neustar OneID system leverages hundreds of authoritative data sources, continuously corroborating consumer and device identity in near real-time with an exceptionally high degree of trust.

Neustar identifies callers via an authoritative database of precise linkages between each consumer’s name, phone number, and phone activity. By leveraging critical datapoints associated with the caller’s number, utilities identify 20 percent more callers on average, automatically loading these CRM records before greeting the caller. IVRs offer callers next-best actions, based on each caller’s identity, increasing the likelihood that callers will self-serve. Agents skip identity verification questions, shave 30 seconds offaverage handle time, and focus on servicing customer needs sooner.

Completing identity verification pre-answer enables utilities to deliver the customer experience that consumers expect. Customers can resolve their matters in less time, and contact center agents can serve customers more efficiently. Contact centers that invest in pre-answer inbound caller identification to improve operational efficiency are also investing in happier, more loyal customers.


[1] Customer Contact Week, 2021 August Market Study: Customer Experience Trends, Challenges & Innovations

[2] Ibid.

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