• January 1, 2017
  • By Leonard Klie, Editor, CRM magazine and SmartCustomerService.com

With Interactions, Salt River Project Helps Customers Keep Their Cool

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Salt River Project supplies electricity and water to nearly 1 million customers in central Arizona, where it can get pretty hot. As the temperature rises, so too does the activity level in Salt River Project’s contact centers, but thanks to intelligent virtual assistant technology from Interactions, the increased volume is a lot more manageable today.

Prior to implementing the virtual agents in May, 97 percent of the more than 2 million calls the utility receives every year were being routed to costly live agents. When call activity peaked during the hottest summer months, the utility had to double the hours assigned to its flex workers and had to bring on extra personnel, both at great cost.

Now, the voice-based virtual agents, English-speaking Rosie and Spanish-speaking Ramon, handle a much larger percentage of the calls.

Since implementing the virtual agents, containment for all calls increased from 3 percent to 35 percent. For calls related to power outages—one of Salt River Project’s most common call types—containment is currently at 46 percent. Rosie and Ramon are capable of proactive power outage confirmation via self-service.

Across all channels, including web self-service, email, and social media, Salt River Project has reduced the number of customer service interactions that require live agent assistance by 24 percent.

Because of the higher containment rates, Salt River Project last summer cut the seasonal agent surge in half.

“Every spring, we were hiring two classes with 36 people each. Now we’re only taking on one class of 36,” says Yolanda France, director of customer contact operations at Salt River Project. That has enabled the company to cut back on its staffing budget and led to other savings as well. Salt River Project is currently consolidating its geographic footprint, closing one of the three contact centers it operates in the Phoenix area. Its contact center agents currently number about 200.

“We need fewer reps now, and we’re managing them by attrition,” France says.

Part of the reason for the increased containment is that Rosie and Ramon are much more feature-rich than Salt River Project’s previous interactive voice response (IVR) system. “Our old IVR could only offer four [menu] options. Now we have 14,” France boasts. And the utility is looking to add even more.

Rosie and Ramon use a blend of artificial and human intelligence to guide customer interactions. With natural language understanding built in, the technology allows customers to speak in their own words.

That has led to increased customer satisfaction, long a company priority. For the past 15 years, J.D. Power has ranked Salt River Project highest in customer satisfaction among large utilities in the West. Its customer satisfaction ratings are consistently in the 90s.

“That we continue to stay atop [J.D. Power’s] charts tells us that [Rosie and Ramon] have continued to bolster high ratings with consumers,” France says. “We’ve seen a great customer response to them.”

“Working with Interactions enabled us to develop a best-in-class, flexible conversational automated care solution that has had a transformative effect on the way we interact with our customers,” said Renée Castillo, the company’s senior director of customer strategy integration, in a statement. “Our customers are looking for speed, efficiency, and accuracy. The Interactions solution delivers.”

With the continued success of Rosie and Ramon, Salt River Project is currently considering expansion of the virtual assistants into other customer care channels, including web chat and SMS. The utility currently supports social media and email interactions on a limited basis and could also look to expand those channels as well.

“Through it all, we were looking for ways to increase customer service and containment,” says France. “With Interactions, we have been very pleased and pleasantly surprised.” 

The Payoff

Since implementing virtual assistant technology from Interactions, Salt River Project has done the following:

  • increased self-service containment from 3 percent to 35 percent;
  • reduced the number of customer service interactions that require live agent assistance by 24 percent;
  • cut the number of additional agents needed to handle seasonal spikes in half; and
  • cut the number of contact centers from three to two.

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