Although the utility industry is the backbone of any economy, it lags in adopting the latest technologies. This is evidenced by the fact that utilities are underperforming in customer satisfaction and retention and are struggling with high operating costs. However, the emergence of new competitors and local threats is forcing utilities to align their priorities more closely with their customers’ needs and experiences. Utilities are looking for the latest technologies to help them:
- Improve process efficiencies across operations.
- Improve the customer experience.
- Reduce the cost of providing services.
- Increase revenue and grow market share.
- Strengthen cybersecurity.
Intelligent Process Automation Can Help Utilities Address These Challenges
Process efficiency across the enterprise: Unlike other tech-savvy industries, many of the back-end and front-end processes require a lot of human intervention, leading to delays, errors, and high operational costs. Most of these processes can be easily automated, allowing employees to focus on high-value-added tasks.
Improve the customer experience: Data is the key driver of customer satisfaction. With the introduction of smart meters, utilities collect a large amount of data. This data can be used to create personalized offers and provide timely information on electricity usage, energy habits, and environmental footprint. Artificial-intelligence powered automation can play an important role in accurately and quickly collecting, storing, and analyzing this data.
Field service delivery: Field service reliability is a key success factor for any utility. This involves a variety of complex operations such as setting call priorities, determining the best route, accessing information, determining availability, and matching capabilities. AI-powered process automation can eliminate many manual steps in these processes, improving the speed and accuracy of operations.
Top-line growth: As electric vehicles become more common, utilities expect a huge increase in per capita electricity consumption. However, to capitalize on this anticipated growth, utilities must optimize their customer acquisition and retention process. Intelligent automation can streamline sales and marketing processes, allowing sales reps to focus more on customer acquisition instead of spending time on mundane administrative tasks. It can also shorten the time it takes to onboard customers, accurately capture customer data, and reduce the risk of bad debt.
Cybersecurity: Numerous utility functions depend on the secure and reliable storage, processing, and communication of electronic data, using sophisticated computer hardware and software systems, which increases the risk of cyber threats that can affect the lives of consumers and the economy as a whole. Because utilities store a large amount of customer data, they may also be exposed to the risk of litigation in the event of a data breach. Intelligent process automation can help manage these challenges with quicker attack detection and response time.
Intelligent Process Automation Can Have a Significant Impact on Operations with Tangible Value Realization
Bad debt reduction: The utility industry loses billions of dollars annually to its customers. As per the latest reports from National Energy Assistance Directors Association (NEADA), more than 20 million US households are running late on their utility bills. In New York alone more than a million households have defaulted on their utility bills with at least $1.7 billion unpaid energy and utility bills since the start of the pandemic. The causes can be many, but according to McKinsey, administrative errors are the leading cause of late or non-payment. These include connection data errors, failure to update systems, changes in temporary contracts to permanent contracts, and meter number contract pricing. Process automation can help standardize these processes, minimizing the likelihood of discrepancies and administrative errors, resulting in significant savings on bad debt.
Reduce customer churn: The average churn rate in the U.S. utility industry is about 30%. In addition to price, poor customer service, incorrect billing, and poor dispute resolution are the main causes of this high churn rate. Since acquiring a new customer is much more expensive than retaining an existing customer, even a small reduction in the churn rate can significantly impact revenue.
- Customer care: Utilities generate a lot of customer data. Intelligent process automation can help manage and analyze this data to identify churning customers in advance and proactively offer them an appropriate solution. It can also help contact center managers provide improved and personalized service to increase customer satisfaction.
- Dispute resolution and billing: Intelligent process automation can ensure billing data accuracy at all levels to quickly resolve billing issues.
Field Service Management: Optimizing and automating scheduling is one of the biggest challenges for the field service function in the utility industry. Intelligent process automation can ensure that the right technician with access to all appropriate resources is dispatched with minimal delay. It can also help monitor asset performance and proactive maintenance requirements, reducing downtime and maintenance costs.
The latest developments in artificial intelligence and process automation have opened the door for utilities to optimize and modernize their process without the trouble of heavy investment in their back-end technology infrastructure. Process automation coupled with AI can have a significant impact on customer-facing functions as well as optimize backend processes to create a competitive advantage along with an impressive return on investment.
—Nikhil Joshi is Director, Value Engineering, at UiPath.