Voice assistants are opening new doors to build customer relationships, but utilities need a holistic strategy before diving into app development.
ICF experts are currently exploring new ways to use voice apps to enhance the customer journey and generate revenue. We believe that the greatest potential for voice apps is to support customer engagement and enhance the customer’s experience with their utility.
As illustrated in the example below, a combination of pull content and push alerts from a voice app could help customers resolve high bill issues without requiring call center involvement.
Alerts based on real-time monitoring can provide proactive calls-to-action, while full libraries of behavioral energy tips and program recommendations can offer a wealth of self-service opportunities — empowering customers to make significant adjustments to usage and sign up for money- and energy-saving programs.
There are similar opportunities for voice to enhance the experience of energy efficiency program participants, such as:
- Make, change, and cancel appointments for direct install and appliance recycling programs
- Check their eligibility to receive and then request delivery of energy kits
- Opt-in or out of demand response events
- Hear reminders about rate fluctuations, bill due dates, and other events
- Earn points for gameplay or other app interactions and redeem rewards
- Receive codes to make discounted purchases at online utility marketplaces
In order to help utilities establish their presence in the voice space, ICF has created a white-label Alexa skill (and soon-to-be Google Assistant action) that includes a baseline of expected voice app functionality. We have also developed APIs that deliver ICF Sightline™-generated personalized energy insights, Next Best Offer program recommendations, and program participation updates.
If a utility has already invested in a smart home voice app, ICF is exploring ways to integrate existing apps with our software to combine functionality and strengths into a single, branded experience. We can also develop custom voice assistants, enterprise voice apps for corporate scheduling and conference room management, and other voice integrations as needed.
If you build it…They may not come
While building an app is a key component of a winning voice strategy, your customers will need help discovering your offering. Both your apps and your existing digital content will need to be optimized in order to successfully surface brand information via voice search.
Customers are already interacting with your brand via voice assistant even if you don’t have an Alexa or Google or Bixby voice app. Typically 98% or more of the content delivered in response to a brand inquiry comes from Wikipedia, Yelp, or another third-party source.
Also, deploying and marketing a voice app presents its own unique challenges, especially when potential users are unsure about the value a voice app might bring. App users may not recall available functionality from use to use, and may need to be reminded—both within and outside the app—of the features offered.
ICF recommends a full-service marketing approach to ensure that voice apps are discoverable. Utilities need awareness and outreach campaigns to introduce the voice strategy and apps to the right customers via high-conversion platforms.
Beyond Amazon and Google: Custom voice assistants, chatbots, and sonic branding
Companies are getting smarter about how voice apps can enhance customer outreach and relieve burden on utility call centers. But just like a brand’s online presence encompasses more than a website, a company’s voice strategy needs to include more than voice apps.
Enterprises are increasingly choosing to build their own custom voice assistants to create fully optimized and personalized user experiences outside of the Amazon and Google horse race. This allows them to maintain control of the customer relationship, data, and brand. Bank of America, BBC, and IKEA have invested in custom voice assistants, with many more companies expected to follow. Utilities may want to consider whether developing a custom voice assistant or building on the Amazon or Google platforms is the best way to support the customer experience.
Organizations are also enhancing or replacing their IVRs with AI. Gartner predicts that by 2021, 15% of all customer service interactions will be handled entirely by AI, an increase of 400% from 2017. McDonald’s plans to build AI into their drive-through ordering process to improve speech recognition and customer experience. Likewise, utilities should consider doing away with limiting and often frustrating voice menus in favor of open-ended, conversational AI solutions—allowing customers to more quickly obtain issue resolution.
Sonic branding is another investment on the horizon. It ensures that the sounds made by hardware, the songs played in retail locations, and even the music the CEO walks out on stage to for speeches all align with their brand. In the current voice-first era, voice strategy needs to keep the overall brand in mind. This can define the opening bars of a company’s podcast, the theme music that plays when the voice app starts up, and even the actor selected as the voice of their virtual assistants.
How to get started
Utilities have an expansive opportunity to enhance their customers’ experience via voice but may not know where or how to address all of the facets of a successful voice strategy. Often, a partnership with a team of experienced experts is the best way forward.
Few companies, including utilities, have the internal capabilities to devise and launch a voice strategy. By collaborating with a consulting team, utilities can benefit from deep expertise in voice strategy and technology in the energy space. With the right support, you can define, develop, and activate successful voice technology to benefit customers and business goals — keeping your engagement efforts on the cutting-edge of the industry.