By Jay Malin, Managing Director

Last month Sears closed its store within blocks of its namesake tower. What happened? Like these other great brands, they failed to innovate. They failed to engage the customer to create a lasting relationship.

I’m not saying this is the fate of your utility. What I am saying is that you can avoid becoming a commodity by delivering new products and services like electric vehicle (EV) programs, commercial services, and energy credits. But in order to gain customer traction, you must maintain your customer’s attention.

There are plenty of good business reasons to improve the customer experience. We know customer satisfaction score (CSAT) improvements help your rate case. If you have a relationship, you can contact customers to avoid costly disconnections. And now switch places – your customer is now your business partner.

In 2010 I was asked to help alleviate voice calls. Today I am being asked to help interact more effectively according to customer preferences. Save valuable agent time for complex matters and for upselling new services.

Our AGENT511 REACH Preference Center helps to instantly communicate service interruptions, appointment reminders, and energy savings according to your customers’ preferred channels. And don’t forget, smart appliances are customer devices and can interact with your systems.

In 2009, AGENT511 deployed the outage alerts service at ComEd. Not too long thereafter I found myself at home, in the dark, where I received an estimated time of restoration (ETR) outage alert. I picked up my family and found myself on my in-law’s couch waiting it out…but soon a restoration notification– thanks ComEd!

One of the key ingredients in REACH is the ability to deliver all notifications with one voice to create a consistent, branded message. To customers, whether it’s a billing message, appointment reminder, or demand response update, the message should feel the same regardless of the channel.

Facebook Messenger now offers a rich set of features like multimedia and buttons. With time, preferred channels change– from the cordless phone – to the wireless phone – to the mobile phone… what’s next?

You want to remain flexible to quickly react to any situation. The REACH rules engine allows you to create new rules and templates, thereby triggering more relevant messages that better inform your customer. Examples include price changes, restoration times, and billing thresholds.

The key is to deliver a great customer experience. I am now being asked to deliver appointment reminders – not just an alert, but the ability to click to quickly reschedule the appointment on the smart phone. In today’s world, if a customer receives a mobile message, they want to quickly respond on their phone.

By proactively communicating to customers, you can learn from them. Nested outages are tricky, and by getting the customer to reply “ON”, your team has better data. Mobile payment is a breeze using one-time shortened URL’s and by allowing your customers to pay with one click.

And while channels change over time, typically years, your operating environment can change at a moment’s notice, as do interruptions and price spikes. REACH provides the ability to send ad hoc alerts and specialized templates to let customers know you’re on the case.

Big brands like Amazon and Wayfair know what you need before you do, so should their utility. REACH records and organizes customer interactions and events. Combined with customer feedback you can reconstruct what’s needed to deliver a seamless customer journey.

REACH allows you to do this proactively by notifying the customer as soon as real-time analytics reveal an opportunity to communicate, or interactively when the customer is calling to talk with you. When your customer contacts you, don’t waste their time when the answer is right there.

Today, we’re seeing new contacts and preferences such as smart appliances, prepaid programs, and picture messages which allow for instant damage assessments from customers and first responders. Even EV loyalty programs may deliver promotional messages to customers on the go.

There are new data sources to improve alerts. Smart meters deliver customer usage information and improve the accuracy of outage efforts. Water sensors now notify select customers on the east coast about tidal flooding.

I’ve thrown a lot at you and all is contingent about your ability to deliver messages in accordance to up-to-date preferences.  AGENT511’s ENFORCE solution brokers consent and opt-out across your organization to avoid sending messages to the wrong customer, or someone who’s not even a customer.

We’re helping to automate interactions that can be best handled by machines at each customer’s pace. CHATGENIE does this by combining our knowledgebase and hybrid chat to help your agents untangle transactions that cannot be managed by a machine.

The case for REACH customer engagement isn’t that hard. It combines significant improvements into your existing operational models, along with an important path to the future that enhances your customer engagements while you evolve and offer new products.

Avoid going down the path of Sears and Kodak and become your customer’s hero, especially on bad days. Make them feel comfortable. Let them know you’re on it and know what they need. Remind them you’re best positioned to service all their energy needs both now and in the future.