Apogee Newsletter June 2021

June 30, 2021 | Newsletter

What’s hot?

By: Susan Gilbert, CEO

The weather of course!  This means a spike in high-bill calls is right around the corner.  Making matters worse, it is estimated that between one-third and one-half of US workers will still be working from home this summer, which is increasing electric bills by 10 percent in many parts of the country.  Compounding this will be the fact that many customers will still be out of work and now losing unemployment benefits.  It’s the perfect storm in customer service that will certainly have call centers hopping this summer. 

This makes it the perfect time to share successes we are seeing working on with our utility clients to help them avoid CSR burn-out, long call-wait times, and ultimately, unhappy customers. 

Promoting Customer Self-Service.  Artificial Intelligence is increasingly being used to empower self-service technologies like automated bill explanations and self-service energy analysis of a home’s energy use.  One study concluded that more than 60% of consumers on hold for a CSR are sitting in front of a computer.  If prompted, they can find answers on their own and not require CSR assistance.  

My personal experience confirms this. Last week when I called for technical support with a product and was told the long wait-time, I took their advice, went to their website and found the video that answered my question in better detail than a CSR could have provided.  I was a happy customer!

A self-serve energy assessment can be promoted through the IVR, and most utilities have some form of self-help tool. Add this to the IVR tree:  

“If you are calling about a higher than usual bill, you can profile your home on our website by selecting “Energy Check-Up” and get weather-adjusted predictions of your monthly bills along with recommendations for ways to save.”

Call Avoidance with Personalized Video Messaging.  Utilities must move beyond these traditional ideas since they are becoming passé as technology marches on and better options are perfected.  Seven years ago, we began the service of pushing “high-bill avoidance” personalized video messages to customers whose current bills were higher than the previous month by $20 at about the time their bill dropped. We think of this approach as avoiding the call all together by explaining why the bill is higher and eliminating the need to call and hear it explained by a CSR.  

These messages displayed the family name and analyzed their home’s energy and cost changes using AMI and/or the billing data, meter-read dates, coincident weather, and told them why their energy use changed and what they could do about it without any home profile information.  The key differentiator that makes this messaging so effective is it is delivered not as static e-mails or just text, but comes as short videos that explain the difference in the bills since the previous month, then go on to show how much of that difference was due to weather, days-of-service, rate change, and behavior in the home.  View our latest video bill explanation and ask yourself, if you received it, would you still need to call the contact center to find out why the bill was higher?  

One of our major IOU clients documented a 15 percent reduction in high bill calls when a study was done creating a control group that did not receive personalized video bill explanations and a treatment group receiving them. Click here to hear what one customer thought of the high bill she received.  We call it a High Bill COMPLIMENT!  Listen to the high bill compliment.

Two new major IOUs launching the service now has driven our numbers up to 30 utilities now sending video messaging to customers for a wide range of opportunities.  Explaining the bill is most popular, but seasonally, Beat-the-Peak requests can surpass all others and the cost savings they produce can have huge financial impacts for the utility.  Program promotions done with “Intelligent Targeting,” meaning they are only sent to customers whose billing history indicates a likely fit with that program, are proving effective. Why bother hundreds or millions of customers with something that they aren’t likely to need or use? And customers appreciate storm alerts, mid-cycle notifications forecasting a range for their final bill while there is still time to affect it, and dozens of other relevant, timely, and valuable communications from their utility.

Outbound Messaging with the IVR.  All of that analytical capability can also be loaded right into the IVR and accessible with the click of a button:

  • For Billing and Payment, press 2 
  • For Balance, press 1         
  • For Payment Arrangements, press 2
  • To Pay by Phone, press 3
  • To Hear an Explanation of your current bill, press 4….

Using Smart Speaker Delivery.  Another increasingly popular communication vehicle is the voice-activated smart speaker Amazon Alexa or Google Home.  The same analytical output can be delivered with voice commands like, “Alexa, why is my bill so high this month?”  Click here to listen to Alexa explain a customer’s bill.  

Results?  So how is all this proactive technology affecting contact center performance?  One client report getting 97% First Call Resolution, which is a remarkable and admirable achievement.  He attributes this to use of the Apogee tools, training reps well, making sure they know how to use them, and eliminating the “call handle time” requirement.  

If any of these ideas are of interest to you, let us know by contacting your account representative or e-mailing info@apogee.net. We typically get our applications live in 8 weeks. 

First Impressions Count – Jones Onslow’s Welcome Series 

A personalized welcome series for new members achieved great results for Jones Onslow EMC (JOEMC):

  • 10.1% increase in program participation
  • Increased member engagement (both open rates and click-thru rates)
  • Freeing up staff to focus on other projects

The Challenge: Increasing Customer Satisfaction, Improve Engagement

JOEMC is headquartered in Jacksonville NC and serves close to 75,000 members across 6 North Carolina counties and a portion of Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune. Member satisfaction has always been a priority. Most recently, JOEMC was ranked 9.3 out of a possible 10 by the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI). After almost a year of working on its own welcome email series JOEMC wanted to see if they could improve engagement with their new members. The team was ready to explore new alternatives.

Solution:

JOEMC agreed to a 6-month pilot to compare Apogee’s personalized welcome series solution against JOEMC’s criteria, past campaign efforts, and member expectations. The automated welcome series included three emails strategically timed for relevant and impactful results.

  1. A “welcome to the utility” video is sent to new members explaining how the cooperative operates, a link to the online portal, and various payment options.
  2. After the first bill members receive an email “understanding your bill” with a personalized video and a detailed explanation of the actual bill and a link to sign up for online payment.
  3. After the second bill the member receives an email with a video explaining JOEMC’s rebates and programs and links to JOEMC’s program page where they can learn more.

Additional personalized emails are sent if bills increase by more than $30 to explain factors that contribute to the bill changes.

Results:

After the initial 6-month pilot JOEMC saw better program participation and freed up staff for other projects. The outcome:

 10.1% increase in program participation and increased open rates and click-thru rates.

87.2% of 6,460 survey respondents advised that the bill was “very easy” to understand

  95.6% of recipients responded they do not need to call customer care with bill questions.

Stephen Goodson, Vice President of Energy Services and Corporate Communication at JOEMC shared his experience,

 “The folks at Apogee are great to work with…they are responsive and attentive. They’re also extremely flexible.”

Goodson further mentioned his two key takeaways “First, Apogee’s automated solution for sending welcome emails to our members was straight forward and easy, it also freed up our staff to focus on other projects. Secondly, we were excited about the use of professional videos in every email, even more so about the level of personalization within the videos that provided extraordinary value to our members without putting demands on internal resources.”

Jones Onslow EMC continues to successfully implement Apogee’s outbound communications platform to welcome new members, increase and continue engagement, and to provide valuable and relevant information across their membership base.

Is “The Peak” Beating You?

By: Kim Johnson, Key Accounts Manager, NE 

Recently, it has been hot in the Northeast, humid and mid to high 80s. It’s getting serious out in the pacific northwest too with a record breaking heat wave underway. I know some of you in the Southeast and Southwest are thinking, “That’s our day to day from May-September.” It is kind of a big deal to New England and parts of the country with more temperate weather. We call it a “Heat Wave” or “Summer Sizzler” or whatever catchy name the news stations give it.

For the first time I can recall, I have received “Beat the Peak” emails from my utility.  The trouble is, they go to my personal email which I do not usually read until the end of the day after work. By the time I see the emails, “The Peak” has passed me by. 

Chances are, I did not complete any of the energy saving recommendations that are included in my email, since the peak has passed.

Besides working for an energy industry customer engagement platform provider, I am a co-op member, so I now look at these “Beat the Peak” messages differently than I may have previously. If my utility sent me a text message in the middle of the day, or the morning of the extreme weather day, I would see it immediately and could possibly affect some change in my household during the day. A timely video sent to let me know some steps I could take to conserve energy would definitely capture my attention.

If your customers are like me and not acting on the recommendations you email to them for “Beat the Peak,” and you are struggling with your load, please reach out.  Let’s talk about to reach your customers when and where it can make the most impact. info@apogee.net

Apogee Institute Webinar

Innovations in Optimizing Your EV Program 

July 29, 2021 – 2 PM Eastern

Join Apogee and guest speakers from Eversource and Rolling Energy Resources to discuss how you can Optimize Your EV Program.

The Results Are In 

 Apogee has recently collected and analyzed results from utilities using our outbound engagement platform for the first quarter. We are proud to announce that with approximately 2 million messages sent by IOUs, Co-ops, and Municipals, our Video Bill Explanation received click-through rates as high as 30%. Utilities sending Mid-Cycle Alerts saw open rates up to 50%.

Cultivating lasting relationships requires continued engagement with customers and the importance of customers receiving proactive and personalized messaging. In doing this, utilities can create more effective campaigns and engage customers before a crisis. 

As one utility customer stated, “I love everything about these videos.” “Thanks for all you do! It’s been a hard year for everyone. Please continue to help us learn about lowering our utility bill.”

Apogee will continue to track statistics and report the findings throughout the year. Our unique vantage point gained by serving hundreds of utilities allows us to share proven strategies that help utility professionals meet and exceed their goals. 

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