February 28, 2024

How Utility Companies Can Effectively Automate Communications

Digital Invoicing

Introduction

When it comes to brand loyalty, 95% of consumers cite customer service and communication among their most important considerations. To improve customer interactions at every opportunity and boost customer lifetime value, utility companies are constantly looking for new ways to facilitate better communications more efficiently and expediently. This includes ensuring customers get their statements and bills on time, efficiently handling customer inquiries, and tracking customer communications to ensure the best service.

Whether it’s hundreds or hundreds of thousands of customers, well-managed customer communications are mandated by government regulations and greatly influence how customers perceive a brand and service.

For top utility companies looking to facilitate fast, secure communications across their enterprise, automated documentation generation tools can integrate with their sales and communication tools like Salesforce, Azure, ServiceNow, and more for virtually one-click correspondence

In this blog, we’ll dive into how communication automation works, where utility companies should automate their communications, when automation does not work, and what an ideal bill automation strategy looks like. 

Customer satisfaction correlates with favorable utility negotiations

What Is Automation in Utility Customer Communications and How Does It Work? 

To ensure seamless communication with customers and clients, utility companies are adopting automation tools and systems that reduce manual effort and eliminate the potential for human error. Commonly referred to as customer communication management (CCM), these tools help utility companies create messages, manage responses, and send out new communication from a centralized and easy-to-maneuver interface. 

Using CCM software and secure DocGen tools allows them to streamline and harmonize communications for enhanced customer interactivity, addressing inquiries wherever their customers are. Automation tools also will enable them to use all available communication channels to meet their customers' needs in one place. 

An effective customer communication management tool should meet all industry data handling regulations, both nationally and internationally, where relevant. The CCM and DocGen tools should be compliant with FINRA,  GxP data residency requirements, and other data privacy standards. 

7 Use Cases for Automated Utility Communications 

Here are the top seven use cases where utility companies have successfully implemented automation tools to improve customer relations and streamline communication processes.

Repetitive customer requests 

Utility companies handle vast quantities of customer requests, inquiries, and other forms of communication, which are often repetitive. Repetitive types of communication include common billing inquiries, requests for a change of address, or requests to start or stop certain services for the customer. These are prime candidates for automation, as they require simple templates and automated data transfer via secure APIs.

Orders, sign-up forms, and payment confirmation

Orders, sign-ups, and payment confirmations are among the most common forms of customer communication. Typically, they require employees to manually input new information like relevant entity information, payment amounts, dates, or names of vendors. As soon as your customer places an order or creates an account on your business website, automation tools allow you to send automated confirmation messages to let them know the information has been received and will be processed accordingly. 

Similar automated messages can be configured for payments. Automating these customer communications allows for ‘thank you’ messages, or ‘welcome’ messages that personalize the customer experience and inform the customer that you have all the necessary information. Since such confirmations are used frequently, a document generation solution allows a utility company to include just the customer-specific data into a standard template, and then the document is generated, shared, and stored, automatically and securely.

Shipping status updates

Notify your customers of the package status, expected delays, or any other changes regarding any shipment. Sending these updates grants your customers peace of mind while assuring them of your commitment to service.

Workflow and internal processes 

Streamline internal processes or requests for service with automated communications that include inquiry details, timelines, service details, feedback, and more. Chatbots also allow users to quickly find the information they need, without searching through website content to find an answer.

Helpful utility tips and batch-print your customer communication, reducing printing costs and maximizing batch-printing dates

When customers sign up for a service or product, automated messages can help customers learn to start using your products or services. Schedule these tips in the form of an email that outlines the various steps your customer can take to get started or a link to a specific page or video guide. n

Frequently asked questions

When customers have common questions regarding your services or company, you can automate responses to these inquiries using keywords. Automating responses to FAQs makes it easier for utility employees to provide the correct answers to questions promptly and offer customers new information about the company or its products and services quickly and efficiently through social media, email, or text.

New company updates or product information

Design document templates to send out new information about your company or any upcoming products to your customers. The multi-channel communication feature in Inkit lets you send company updates through social media, email, or text quickly and efficiently.

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Types Of Utility Bills To Automate And How

Utility bill printing can be tedious, and government regulations require large numbers of disclosures and absolute accuracy. Automating utility bills saves time and money compared to manual processes, reduces cycle time, and increases accuracy.   Automating these utility bills makes it easier for utilities to design invoices and statements, gather and populate customer-specific information from different data sources, and send them to the customers either electronically or in print.

Depending on their customer set, utility companies may need to consider a balance between paper and digital bills. For example, some bills can be accessed and fulfilled online, while others may need to be printed due to regulations or customer requirements. In most cases, bills that can be created and delivered digitally include the following:

  • Electricity bills
  • Water and sewage bills
  • Gas bills
  • Trash collection and recycling bills
  • Telephone bills
  • Internet connection bills

A document generation platform can compile billing information and deliver customer bills much faster, allowing utilities to concentrate resources in other critical areas. Your communication automation service provider will batch-print your customer communication, reducing printing costs and maximizing batch-printing discounts.

When Not To Automate Communications

Some forms of customer communications cannot be automated due to the sensitive or dynamic nature of the information. There are two types of data commonly used by utility companies: 

  1. Static information - Information that doesn't change. For example, the name and address of the utility company appear the same on all of your customer communication forms.
  1. Dynamic information - Information that changes per document. For example, your customers' names and addresses. 

Automated document generation solutions can create different types of documents using a combination of customer data (dynamic information) and standardized company information (static information). Should a system capture incorrect or conflicting information, whether the source is company or customer error, quick and accurate remediation is generally required by law. In high-risk scenarios such as environmental assessments, delivery of investor information, and tax-related documents, the potential for error and the consequences of inaccuracy require a detailed human review. In these cases, automated document generation is generally not appropriate.

Final Thoughts

There are many different ways that utilities can use automated document generation to improve communications and operations.  As a rule of thumb, automation is an effective measure if you find yourself manually creating the same document templates from scratch and only inputting a new source of information. Documents like contracts, customer forms, invoices and bills, shipping status updates, and electricity and gas bills are all ideal candidates for automation.

Interested in learning how Inkit can help automate your communications? Find Inkit on AppExchange today, or email us at sales@inkit.com with any questions. Trusted by the Airforce, DoD, and top institutions where privacy and security matter most. 

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