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Tech for People

Using chatbots to answer queries faster

Chris Downs

Head of Delivery

18 Jan 2021

In recent years we have witnessed the rise of what some are calling the on-demand economy. It is all about instant gratification - streaming a movie on Netflix or ordering something from Amazon prime that arrives the same day.

This desire for things now rather than waiting is becoming important in all aspects of our lives as a result and this includes when we are looking for answers from customer service. Research from around the world shows that 90 per cent of customers expect an immediate response to their customer service queries.

With customer touchpoints being more frequent with prepay energy, call volumes are invariably higher than those experienced by energy providers associated with mainly credit customers. Additionally, while most customer queries are often routine questions, some still need a reassuring voice at the end of the phone that has time and resources to help. For these types of sensitive enquiries, Utilita’s dedicated Extra Care Team are at the end of the phone.

Despite these more in-depth questions, our contact centre Is very good at answering our customers' questions quickly - the average wait time Is just 120 seconds – and falling. Yet sometimes people want the answers to simple questions more quickly and so we have turned to smart artificial intelligence (AI) technology to help customers find answers rapidly.

Using AI-powered chatbots to serve our customers better

Utilita is working with LogMeIn, one of the world’s top 10 public software as a service companies and which was named as one of the fastest-growing companies in 2018 by Fortune magazine, to use chatbot technology to answer some of these questions even more quickly and deliver a superior customer service experience.

Utilita has implemented LogMeIn's Bold360 chatbot platform which uses cutting-edge AI to understand customer queries, using a technique known as natural language processing (NLP). NLP lets a chatbot recognise that "How much is my electric?", "How much do I owe?" and "What's my bill this month?" are all versions of the same question, even if the customer makes a spelling mistake or changes the order of the words. The clever AI behind Bold360 also 'learns' over time, making it smarter the more questions it is asked.

The Bold360 platform has proven incredibly easy to use, allowing us to reduce the time it takes to teach the chatbot the answers to the sorts of question our customers are likely to ask, such as how to use our smart meter technology, how to top up, and where to find important information, such as a customer number.

Having researched other chatbot technologies, we saw a real difference in how Bold360 approached the initial scoping stages, starting not with what we wanted, but what was really driving our customers to contact us. This fresh approach means we have been able to get this smart technology into the hands of our customers more quickly.

Our implementation of Bold360 has emphasised the importance of self-serving, which saves a significant amount of money in call handling, whilst delivering great customer service.

Alongside a track record of enhancing customer experiences while increasing deflection, the Bold360 platform provided greater flexibility in the configuration of routing and resourcing functionality, a must for any fast-growing company like Utilita.

How smart tech is helping us discover what our customers want to know

Since we launched the chatbot, Bold360 has allowed us to support customer queries at a much faster rate. The chatbot is now handling more than 220,000 questions each month, 71 per cent of which are answered without any human intervention. When the cost to fulfil a chatbot inquiry is minimal – a matter of pence - compared to several pounds for a phone call, the savings are clear. The benefits have been significant to both the customer and the customer service team.

For those that do require intervention by a customer service agent, we monitor the Bold360 dashboard so that any questions that aren’t being answered sufficiently by the chatbot are flagged and a dedicated team then provide answers or solutions, which can then be delivered by the chatbot within minutes.

The dashboard has also enabled us to identify questions that might require some additional web functionality. After seeing a trend for people asking for their customer reference number, we created a widget within the chatbot where they could enter some security details and it would give them their reference number automatically. This observation has enabled 10,000 customers, who have since asked the same question via the chatbot, to self-serve saving thousands in call handling.

Since launch, more than 96,000 Utilita customers have used the chatbot on more than one occasion. It has clearly become the communication mode of choice for many, especially those in the younger, digital-native demographic.

In a world where people want answers, and want them quickly, Utilita’s smart tech approach is making it happen.