Power Energy and Utility Chatbots
The Energy and Utilities sector is characterized by 24 x 7 operations and a large residential and commercial customer base that depends on uninterrupted and critical service levels.
It is also an industry that relies on a distributed and capital-intensive infrastructure that needs to be continuously monitored and maintained by teams of skilled field engineers and technicians. As such, customer service success for utilities is closely tied to operational performance as well as the ability to create engaging experiences for the customer. This makes the industry a natural fit with the intelligent and conversational nature of bots and the underlying natural language processing (NLP) and artificial intelligence (AI) that powers them, not only for customer service but also for the operational management of energy and utility infrastructure.
AI Innovation for Energy & Utilities: From Simple Chatbots to Conversational AI
For the energy and utility sector, there is no shortage of opportunities for AI initiatives to transform customer service as well as improve operational performance. Whether it’s a query on a utility bill, updating customers on the status of a service outage, or responding to other service requests, chatbots are being implemented by utility providers in their contact centers to improve the customer experience while lowering the costs of service delivery.
But there’s more to AI bots than meets the eye. AI technology has advanced so that Conversational AI and chatbots can now have much broader capabilities and characteristics beyond responding to simple Q&A. They can operate as digital agents, simulating human tasks and activities that can range from responding to simple requests for information to handling more complex customer journeys. Think of customer onboarding, or proactively guiding customers on smarter usage, or running a retention campaign to win back lost customers. The use cases for digital assistants have a far wider reach and implications for energy and utility companies than just the simple Q&A type chatbots.
But chatbot innovation doesn’t just have to be about driving better engagement with customers. There are also several workforce use cases that offer untapped potential. Take the mission-critical area of field service, where large teams of field maintenance engineers work remotely installing smart meters, maintaining distributed utility infrastructure, or repairing damaged equipment following storm events. Conversational AI solutions offer new opportunities to transform service workflows and engagement, ultimately providing an even better customer experience at a lower cost.
Robotic Process Automation (RPA) vs Bots: Blurring Lines
Before looking at the use cases for chatbots in more detail, it’s worth exploring the terms “Bots” and “Robotic Process Automation (RPA)”, both of which are prevalent in the energy and utility sector.
RPA applies AI technology in the form of robots in order to further automate repetitive, predictable or rules-based business processes, replacing human intervention with robots. More often associated with back-office processes in operational departments such as finance, production, maintenance, or HR, RPA is a process-driven and bottom-up approach to eliminating inefficiencies, improving operational performance, and ultimately trimming costs.
Typical use cases for RPA are in areas such as processing billing transactions in high volumes, managing consumption metering, and compiling customer records. In industries like energy and utilities, regulatory requirements often drive the need for rules-based process management, which can be automated with RPA.
Chatbots, on the other hand, can simulate human conversations (either through voice or through messaging) and become smart through continuous learning via the underlying natural language processing (NLP) and AI technologies. Where RPA is process-driven, conversational AI bots are data- and conversation-driven and follow a more user-centric and free-flowing approach, which is why the term bot is often associated more strongly with customer-facing service, sales, or marketing use cases.
So while RPA is focused on automating existing processes by applying AI technology, bots offer the opportunity to take a top-down approach in transforming business processes so that they can respond flexibly to changing customer needs.
Chatbots always involve some form of conversational interaction, via either voice-activated or messaging interfaces. RPA, on the other hand, can be applied to a discrete process that does not involve any type of user chat or interaction. But when you look at the use cases for intelligent automation, the lines between RPA and chatbots can overlap or intersect considerably.
For example, RPA could be applied in the billing process, generating high volumes of customer invoices by downloading utility consumption data and customer information from back-office systems, eliminating the need for any human intervention. A chatbot can be also be used in the billing process, for example, by understanding a customer’s intent when they request details of their account status (via text, email, voice etc.), retrieving the appropriate account information from the accounts systems, and responding to the customer via chat.
The use case for RPA is about more structured, predictable, and high-volume processes while smart bots can be applied to more fluid, versatile, and user-facing use cases. More and more the lines between the two are blurring as the use cases for smart bots move beyond the virtual assistant in the contact center. At ServisBOT, we created the Army of Bots with these use cases in mind.
5 Sample Energy & Utility Chatbots
By supplementing or, in some cases, replacing human interactions with chatbots, many customer engagements can be made available 24/7 and handled in more automated and efficient ways. This lowers the cost of service delivery while also putting customers in control of how and when they interact with their utility provider. And by offering a path to a human when necessary, the perfect balance between human and non-human interactions can be achieved.
The same principle can also be applied to employee engagement. For example, chatbots can equally play a role in field service enablement, providing more intelligent and versatile automation to field service workflows. Chatbots are also successfully implemented to automate routine IT helpdesk or HR queries, reducing the degree of human intervention and costs.
Typically, a chatbot cannot manage all customer interactions for a firm. They have been developed for specific use cases, including account administration, billing, outage warnings, house moves, field service, and more. Each bot is designed with a very targeted or specific business purpose with a goal of achieving a specific outcome. This makes it easy to train and deploy them while allowing them to communicate with other bots to deliver combined capabilities. In more complex implementations or as the skills of the solution are expanded, multiple bots can be orchestrated by a single virtual assistant that manages the ebb and flow of the conversation, keeping context and routing to the bot with the most appropriate skill to fulfill the intent.
Here are five examples of task-oriented chatbots and others can be found in our eBook: 10 Smart Bots to Power Customer Engagement for Energy and Utilities.
- The AccountBOT is responsible for retrieving a customer’s utility account information and responding to queries on their statement. For instance, in response to a customer inquiry, this bot can provide payment due dates, use trends, the most recent transactions, and other account details. This bot can be used as a secure, user-friendly standalone bot or as a component of a more complex bot that can support more intricate account and billing journeys.
- The WinBackBOT fights customer churn by proactively winning back and retaining hard-to-reach utility customers. With the costs of acquiring new customers increasing, retention and winning back lost customers is an important focus of marketing initiatives for the sector. By handling outbound campaigns with personalized and interactive conversations, the bot can deliver persuasive offers that convince customers to stay or come back.
- The AppointmentBOT: This bot helps set up and manage appointments with customers so that field technicians can do any necessary installations, repairs, or routine maintenance. Take for example the installation of smart meters where an engineer may need access to a customer’s property. The bot can proactively book/modify appointments, send reminders and confirmations, track estimated arrival times, and enable customers to rate appointment quality.
- The HomeMoverBOT: As customers move house, there is a high risk of them switching their utility vendor to the company that currently provides services at the new address. Facilitating a smooth transfer of utilities from one place to the next is therefore an important aspect of customer retention. And just to put this in context, in the US, people move an average of almost 12 times in their lifetime (lower in Europe but it is still a significant opportunity). This bot facilitates an efficient home mover process that confirms moving out and moving in dates and addresses with the customer, sends reminders and relevant documentation to moving customers, initiates the timely reading of both meters, simplifies other aspects of moving, and updates all records and billing. Accurate bills can be generated that reflect the final utility consumption at the old residence while making sure that the starting point is properly registered at the new home meter. By doing this, revenue losses through not capturing final consumption and inaccurate billing can be avoided.
- The SmartMeterBOT: The relationship between a utility company and its customers has evolved beyond just being about rates and billing. The advent of smart meters has further enabled utility providers to deliver more personalized information so that customers can be smarter about their usage, saving them money while also being more environmentally friendly. This bot offers customers information on their consumption patterns and real-time pricing and demand patterns, providing tips on how to better manage their usage. For example, customers can be advised what time periods are less costly so that they can plan accordingly, running a dishwasher or washing machine during the night when demand is low. It can also offer personalized promotions to support smarter consumption and lower costs. This offers companies an opportunity to strengthen the relationships with customers and build brand loyalty that creates stickiness and reduces churn.
As you can see, each utility bot has a different role and performs different functions. There are many more bots that can be deployed to handle customer service tasks, manage customer journeys, automate processes, run marketing campaigns, or facilitate employee workflows.
So when thinking about the role of conversational AI for your business, look beyond the simple FAQ bot and explore the use cases where conversations intersect with process workflows, and how these can be automated.
Still wondering what is a conversational AI platform? Don’t worry. Our How it Works guide will explain everything.
Related Reading: eBook – A Conversational AI Journey Guide