In today’s digital world, there are countless ways to communicate. We continue to expand the methods customers can use to reach us while constantly evaluating and improving the channels available. No matter how our customers choose to connect with us, we’re dedicated to responding to their needs more efficiently and cost-effectively.
The expansion of digital channels continues to be a key strategy. We are focusing on providing our customers the ability to access self-service solutions based on their need for timeliness and engagement. As we transform digitally, customer care will continue to become more fluid in terms of how it occurs – whether in a digital channel, on the phone or both. We continue to invest in technology, continuous improvement, and training to provide a seamless experience for customers and equip our Customer Care agents with information to meet customers’ needs.
Customers can reach us through many channels and complete multiple tasks without the need to talk to an agent. In addition to our website and mobile offerings, customers can find solutions using our automated phone system (IVR) and two-way text. Rising customer expectations and the need to support more sophisticated customer interactions across various channels are driving the need to deliver a better customer experience. In 2021, we launched a digital assistant named Aepril. Aepril can be accessed through our website or IVR and offers an automated way to complete common tasks. Paying their electric bill or setting up payment arrangements are a few examples of tasks customers can complete without the assistance of a person.
- Customer Perceptions
We are listening to our customers and using their insight to transform how we provide customer care. In 2020, we expanded the feedback gathered through our Voice of the Customer Program and began proactively surveying customers. These surveys assess our customers’ satisfaction with our service and brand including power quality, communications, billing process and community involvement. Listening to our customers also helps us identify opportunities to make it easier to do business with us.
For the first time, Southwestern Electric Power Company (SWEPCO) ranked the highest among midsize utilities in the South in the J.D. Power 2020 Electric Utility Business Customer Satisfaction Study. SWEPCO scored highest for power quality and reliability, billing and payment, and customer contact. The J.D. Power study examines overall business customer satisfaction across six factors: power quality and reliability; corporate citizenship; price; billing and payment; communications; and customer contact. This award demonstrates SWEPCO’s progress in advancing technology, tools and communication to better provide our customers with an excellent customer experience they deserve.
In addition, SWEPCO was presented an Emergency Response Award by the Edison Electric Institute (EEI) for helping restore power following several large storms in 2020. Emergency Response Awards recognize recovery and assistance efforts by EEI member companies following service disruptions caused by extreme weather or other natural events. During these storm events, crews encountered all types of adverse weather and other conditions, including flooding, high winds, extreme heat, varying terrains and dangerous wildlife. Not only were these conditions challenging, crews had to navigate the health and safety concerns of COVID-19.
- Data and Analytics
Customer needs and behaviors are constantly changing. Data and analytics inform and help us respond to these changes. In 2020, we implemented a speech-to-text program that converts customer calls into transcripts. By digitally analyzing these transcripts, we hope to gain more information about why customers are calling and the issues they’re experiencing. As we expand our digital channels we also are establishing robust monitoring to ensure our customers are completing transactions with as little effort as possible. These metrics will provide insight into where we can offer additional self-service capabilities, continue to match customer preferences and drive continuous improvement.
- Social Media
Customers and other stakeholders frequently choose to contact us through social media platforms. Our Social Media Center team continues to positively shift customer sentiment while protecting our brand. Customer Care Specialists monitor social media seven days a week, including holidays, so a customer who contacts us through Twitter or Facebook receives a quick response, often within minutes. We added Nextdoor to our channels of engagement in 2020 as we continue to evaluate the best platforms for interacting with customers.
Social media channels were important for communicating about our response to the COVID-19 pandemic and our support for customers and communities. We used our social platforms to share information about policy changes, what we were doing to keep customers and our employees safe, and payment and assistance programs for customers who were struggling. During 2020, we proactively shared more than 1,800 COVID-related social media messages that had almost 170,000 engagements (likes, comments and shares).
Our service territory experienced three significant hurricanes, in addition to summer and winter storms in 2021, and our Social Media Center team shared outage and safety information, while assisting customers who lost service. Our social media professionals had more than 21,000 one-on-one conversations with customers and stakeholders in 2020, almost double the previous year. Approximately 40 percent of those conversations were about outages, restoration estimates, safety hazards and other storm-related topics. In addition, the Social Media Center provided creative and analytical support to help operating companies effectively communicate with customers.