Communicating with Customers
The customer experience encompasses every touch point we have with our customers, whether on the phone, through social media and outage alerts, with a line crew in the field, through billing and online transactions, or through the interactions our employees have while serving in the community. Increasing numbers of customers want the ability to access their bill and service information at any time, from any location, on any device.
One way we are improving our communications with customers is through mobile alerts. In 2015, AEP offered mobile outage alerts to its 5.4 million customers. But the technology is only as good as the information it delivers, which is why we have multiple efforts under way to improve our outage assessment capabilities to provide customers with more accurate and timely data. Customers can also sign up for alerts to start and stop service, report an outage and to be notified of bill payments.
As we learn more about what our customers want, we will be able to use the mobile alert communication channel to provide information about programs and services that matter most to them. Our customer analytics will get us there.
The Role of Social Media
Customers are the driving force behind how and where we interact with them. Increasingly, they are using social media, text, chat and other online tools to connect with us. Because they are always plugged in, they expect immediate response from us 24/7, similar to other online retail experiences. This is especially true during outages, when customers want real time, accurate information about restoration efforts.
In response, we are developing a long-term plan to give us a stronger online presence that would allow for expanded monitoring, reporting and analysis of the communications channels customers and other stakeholders are using to contact AEP. This includes constantly developing new content, including short videos, infographics and blog posts as well as using other social media channels, such as Instagram, because the use of pictures and videos tells our story so well.
AEP and its operating companies actively engage through social media. In 2015, AEP managed 14 Facebook pages, 14 Twitter handles, eight YouTube channels, three Instagram accounts and one corporate LinkedIn page. Investor-related information and power outages were the two most talked about categories via social media, followed by company and Ohio news and environmental-related posts.
Social media also allow us to:
- Quickly disseminate information and correct misperceptions
- Address customer concerns
- Convey corporate branding
- Share our community involvement
- Educate the public on electric safety
- Gauge customer perceptions
- Attract new employees
- Communicate and educate customers on company initiatives, such as energy efficiency
Customer Contact, Customer Care
In 2015, customers conducted more than 19.6 million online transactions, or an 11.4 percent increase from the previous year, and web traffic also increased for desktop and mobile users. Online bill pay and electronic billing is a win-win for us and our customers; it is more efficient, eco-friendly and enhances customer satisfaction.
In addition to self-service options available on the web and over the phone, we are dedicated to providing customers with access to professional and helpful customer operations associates. In 2015, our Customer Operations Centers handled nearly 23 million customer calls, a 5 percent increase from 2014. As we improve our contact center capabilities, we expect those numbers will decrease as more customers opt for self-serve or online options. We also hope to reduce the number of customer calls, using big data and analytics to better understand why customers are calling and whether they can be better served using online options. In 2015, AEP’s Customer Operations Centers were awarded the Certification of Excellence for a seventh time by Benchmark Portal, a global leader in contact center benchmarking, certification, training and consulting. The certification recognizes AEP’s effective use of people, processes and technology when serving customers.
If we don’t deliver unique products and services to our customers, our competitors will. That is why AEP Energy, our competitive business unit, is focused on providing customers with solutions such as long-term agreements, full end-to-end energy management solutions and being their trusted energy provider. Our Key Accounts team is doing the same thing for our large commercial and industrial customers on the regulated side. Our customers want to focus on their business, not ours. Our job is to give them what they need, when they need it.