Utilities companies face a vexing challenge: What happens when their supply of contact centre employees runs dry? The predictions are worrying. But there is a solution.
Bans and blackouts?
Every so often, utilities companies issue warnings about shortages. Water companies struggle with supplies during droughts, while gas or electricity firms sound the alarm during winter freezes. We've seen shock headlines in the past 12 months.
But these aren’t the only critical shortages in the sector. It’s the severe scarcity of skilled employees in the utilities industry that jumps out of a report published in August 2018 by the UK Government. Employers are finding it hard to source applicants with relevant skills, qualifications and experience.
Meanwhile, research published in the HR industry has unearthed some alarming stats for energy and utilities organisations:
- 100,000 of the existing employees (20% of the sector’s workforce) are set to retire
- Another 90,000 people are leaving to find new roles
- 221,000 vacancies will need to be filled within the next decade
So how will utilities companies manage to fill some of these skilled positions in their contact centres? Is it just a case of raising salaries and competing harder in the marketplace for good employees? Or is there a better way to tackle these shortages?
Fresh thinking on tap
In its 2019 Utilities Report, Eckoh is encouraging the industry to rethink its strategy when it comes to contact centre employees.
Firstly, customers are increasingly in the mood for self service, so why not give them more? Some utilities companies are already doing great work in this area — with advanced web-based control panels that let customers choose tariffs, enter readings and check bills. It's possible for companies to make information available even more readily, for instance through a General Enquiries feature in their IVR. With natural language speech recognition, customers can get many everyday questions answered immediately 24x7 without having to weave their way through a labyrinth of menu options.
Secondly, if there's a real risk that expertise is leaking out of the business every time an employee leaves or retires, then it's possible for 'best practice answers' to be captured within a Knowledge Base. This repository of wisdom and correct answers will enable all agents within your company to speak with a consistent voice, as well as helping new employees get up to speed faster.
Thirdly, today's new breed of Chatbots are great news for the utilities sector. It's possible to plug them into your Knowledge Base — and send them off to work. Customers are happy with this approach too. Research within the retail industry, for instance, has shown that 78% of queries can be answered intuitively by Chatbots with no loss to the overall customer experience. What's more, many customers value the 24x7 self-service and immediacy offered by Chatbots.
Where does that leave the humans?
With smart technology answering many of the most basic questions, your skilled contact centre staff will be there to handle the complex issues. This is good news for agents. No longer do they have to keep handling those boring, morale-sapping questions that come up again and again. Their jobs can become more challenging and interesting. That means there's a better chance of retaining good staff within an increasingly competitive skills marketplace.
To explore this topic and others facing the utilities sector, download your free copy of the Utilities Review 2019. It identifies the top five challenges facing decision-makers in the water and energy industries over the coming months, including how to win against increased competition and how to secure customer payments and data.
 'UK Employer Skills Survey' - Energy & Utility Skills/ Department for Education (DfE) - published Aug 2018
 'Challenges Facing UK Energy and Utilities Workforce Management' - PageUp (01 Sep 2017)
 The Retail Bulletin, March 2018
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