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Transparency in the age of customer trust: The task ahead for utilities

With more customers complaining on social media platforms, the need for businesses in all spheres to maintain customer loyalty has never been greater. This certainly rings true for the utilities sector. Npower, for example, has issued a series of lengthy apologies to customers over the mishandling of energy bills. Indeed, Npower’s legacy billing system when attempting to resolve customer complaints has led to a £26 million fine from the energy watchdog, Ofgem.

2016 has been an undeniably challenging year to-date for the utilities sector in particular; the papers have reported growing public dissatisfaction over soaring price hikes and poor customer service. According to recent research from uSwitch, UK households were charged £4 million extra due to billing errors this year, including late and inaccurate bills from crucial meter-to-cash-billing problems. What’s apparent is that in sectors such as retail, finance or utilities, organisations can no longer let glitches in back-end processes happen.

Business and IT stakeholders, and all others involved in handling mass billing processes, should consider Enterprise Process Robotics to streamline back and front end processes. Enterprise Process Robotics enables businesses to really see what customers require and can ultimately meet those ever-critical end-user expectations.

Take a leaf from the telecom industry’s book

Utility firms could look to some organisations within the telecoms industry, as beacons of best practice in customer service. An illustrative example is T-Mobile who recently implemented mass billing to enable connected process automation throughout its enterprise. Rolled out across more than 100 systems and servers, T-Mobile took action to ensure that its customers needn’t have an excuse to complain. Overall, the telecoms giant automated more than 30,000 processes that supported customer service and billing. Make no mistake that something as ‘behind the scenes’ as billing automation helps to maintain customer loyalty and turn them into lifelong customers.

What’s plain to see is that some organisations within the telecoms industry understand that if accurate bills aren’t sent on time and reputational damages are experienced as a result, the life expectancy of their business will in all probability take a hit as quickly as its customer satisfaction levels.

Turn to automation

Ofgem has been quoted as saying that numerous energy suppliers in the UK risk ‘undermining public confidence’ by failing to communicate with customers effectively at a time when customer trust is everything. The utilities sector cannot rely on out-dated and slow processes; managers must take tangible steps to prevent customers receiving inaccurate bills. This is where Meter to Cash (M2C) automation takes centre stage; investing in this software will streamline an energy company’s end-to-end payment processes and eliminate manual steps to handle large volumes of bills quickly and accurately.

M2C automation can help to streamline core processes and significantly improve consistency, quality and accuracy.

Across the pond, many organisations in the utilities sector are also realising the benefits of automating critical processes for accuracy and seamless customer service. Texas Utilities, one of the largest utility companies in western United States, has embraced automation and now streamlines its critical meter-to-cash processes. Beforehand, its system was limited and rigid, unable to cope with the constant and variable data flow from its customers’ meters. Frustratingly, billing and invoicing was often a lengthy process which resulted in invoicing mistakes due to it being an intensive, manual task. Yet, with Enterprise Process Robotics, the utility company now accurately and uniformly processes $40 million (£30 million) in billable meter data as soon as it arrives, significantly reducing and improving the accuracy of its invoicing cycle. In fact, the utility has been able to remove a full day and a half from its meter-to-cash process – and the saving is directly reflected in its bottom line.

With Enterprise Process Robotics, utility firms can ultimately increase control of processes as billing staff are no longer tied to repetitive manual tasks, but are free to work on more strategic and value-add tasks.

It’s all about trust

We live in an increasingly fast-paced and digital world that demands transparency. Utility companies must realise that customer trust is hard to earn and even harder to maintain. Indeed, utility companies across the UK must take necessary steps to invest in connecting back and front end processes for a seamless and uncomplicated experience, now and for years to come.

Neil Kinson, Chief of Staff, Redwood Software

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Neil Kinson
Neil Kinson is Chief of Staff at Redwood Software. Prior to joining Redwood Neil was part of the EMEA leadership team at OpenText, holding a number of executive roles.