Internet kick-started a revolution in business-customer communication; since then hardware and software innovation has been taking these interactions to new levels. With the advent of smartphones and tablets– apps and social media accessibility have paved the way for immersive customer experience.
The portability of these devices is a huge positive from the perspective of both the organization and the customer. Customers can access information, troubleshoot, get bill statements and even make payments on the move. Organizations on the other hand, can tailor their offerings to customers based on parameters like location, need, and past usage patterns. Moreover, this can be done across multiple channels and devices.
Banks have probably best capitalized on the ubiquity of the smartphone and the tablet. Mobile apps enable bank customers to not only view their account, but also transfer funds, locate ATMs and branches, and calculate loan payments. In comparison, a survey of US utility companies indicates that not more than 40% of utility companies support customer self-service facility on mobile phones.
Introducing more mobile apps would go a long way in delighting customers, and ensure customer stickiness in utilities. Take the instance of a mobile app for bill payment. The customer receives a bill notification and can make immediate payment anytime and anywhere, and on a single click. Customers can also use apps for lodging complaints. The facility for two-way communication improves the quality of interaction. Further, mobile apps enable integration of multiple channels, and encourage adoption of additional new services by speeding up the process.
Other than customer delight, utilities would also reap other benefits. Bill collection is a pain point for most utilities. With a bill payment app the on-time payments may register a rise leading to better cash flows. Also, by enabling self-service, app deployment facilitates cost savings.
In addition, utilities can increase their customer touch points. As a rule, customer interactions with utilities are few and far between, mostly restricted to times of bill payment or a shift in residence. Mobile apps encourage greater interaction, provided they are designed keeping the individual customer in mind. Utility service apps should be as visually appealing to the consumer as say, apps of a consumer product company.
The enormous potential of augmented reality must also be considered. For instance, when a customer makes a manual reading of his electric meter and enters the details on his device, there are chances of human error. With an app, the customer can use his smart phone camera to capture a picture of the meter. Again, a customer who is not familiar with the parts of the meter may not click it right. With the help of augmented reality apps, the camera can identify the right meter and indicate its components so that the customer captures a relevant picture.
By 2016, the world will have 1 billion smartphones users2. With advanced technologies at their disposal, now is the right time for utilities to initiate development of next-generation apps that will redefine customer experience.