Utility companies should invest in customer engagement technology to improve ‘outrageous’ call waiting times

In response to The Times’ investigation that revealed Britain’s ‘Big Six’ energy companies are leaving customers on hold for “outrageous” lengths of time, a customer engagement expert from Aspect Software has urged utility companies to embrace new digital self-service tools that reduce inbound call volumes and hold times.

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The Times contacted the main suppliers over six months at various times and found that customers were waiting more than 20 minutes to speak with an operator at busy periods, with average waiting times of six minutes. Ranked lowest, Eon took 10 minutes 32 seconds on average to answer, with Scottish Power consistently the quickest to answer at 2 minutes 38 seconds.

In order to deliver an effective customer engagement experience and ensure enquiries are responded to as quickly as possible, companies should leverage context and natural language understanding that makes an automated transition to a live human agent for more complex queries. That’s according to Stephen Ball, Senior VP Europe & Africa at Aspect, who explained: “The ability to self-service is becoming increasingly expected as standard by consumers of all groups. A customer can respond directly to an automated text reminder and the ITR system will be able to use natural language processing to interpret it and act accordingly.”

At a basic level, self-service platforms can be as authentic as the real thing while reducing long call-waiting times, and Stephen suggests that more flexible tools can be easily integrated into channels such as outbound SMS, webchat and Twitter. He continued: “Even with effective self-service solutions, organisations must also consider the importance of human interaction and ensure the transition to a live contact is as seamless as possible to maintain a consistent customer interaction experience.”

In 2015 a study by consumer group Which? Found that 1 in 14 calls to energy suppliers were taking longer than 20 minutes to answer, the weakest performance of any industry. Complaints handling website Resolver said it had received 12,500 complaints about energy companies, with the majority involving customer service and responded stating: “It’s outrageous that the Big Six are still taking such a long time to address even the most basic enquiries.” Ofgem offered a statement on the findings saying: “Suppliers are required to treat customers fairly and it is unacceptable that customers have to wait a long time before they are put through.”

Stephen concluded: “For any business that receives a high volume of inbound customer enquiries, implementing and executing an effective self-service strategy can drastically speed up the process, free up human resources and significantly improve levels of customer satisfaction.”