Bob brings a wealth of knowledge to this space and the insights he’ll provide to the Community will be critical in navigating the maze of future utility opportunities. To kick off that information-sharing process, Bob sat down to participate in the traditional Energy Central Power Perspectives ‘Welcome New Expert Interview Series.’’
Matt Chester: Bob, we’re very excited to welcome you to our Network of Experts. It’s traditional for us to initiate you by featuring an interview with you so our community knows who you are and where your expertise lies. So to start with the basics, tell us a bit about your background, how you got involved with ibex, and what role you play in the utility sector?
Bob McCallister: I started in the telecommunications industry in 1983, yes 40 years ago! Of those years, 35 of them were in the Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) and Customer Contact Center space.
I have been with ibex since 2016, focusing primarily in the Telcom and Utilities space, helping to bring innovation centered around reducing the costs of delivering a world class customer experience in customer service or CX.
MC: Utilities often have customers built in for them, so their pursuit and care to customers looks different from the traditional business. Can you talk about what that means for the work you do in the CX space for utilities?
BM: That’s a great point, Matt. We’re sensitive to the fact that utilities have a mandate to deliver service to all the customers in their service region, often without regard for their ability to pay or other issues, as we’ve seen during the recent pandemic. ibex has a lot of experience, across many customer facing segments, dealing with those unique considerations, and we’re always innovating around the customer lifecycle to enhance the experiences.
We also have a number of special teams with utility experience that can deliver different services than a typical customer service outsourcer. For example, our Utility Solutions team includes a marketing team with deep experience in social media and digital outreach to utility audiences. That’s important because as utilities contend with delinquent accounts, many are looking for new and proactive ways to connect with customers rather than just waiting for the customer call or the customer turning delinquent. ibex has teams with expertise to build unique programs to support, not just the customer service call, but also to prompt and engage customers in new ways, and in those new channels where they want to develop their own experience.
MC: What tools do you think have changed the relationship between utility and their customers most in recent years, and what are the tools on the precipice you think will do that in the coming years?
BM: I can’t overstate the importance of the digital experience for utilities. Phone calls may still be the dominant channel today, but just in the last few years the volume of digital engagement and customer expectations for digital self-service or non-voice support has become significant. With 165 million “Digitally Native” consumers in the market (and that total is accelerating fast), consumers want an experience that meets them on their terms. That’s why we have increased our non-voice activity so substantially in the last few years.
With that said, self-service can often create more calls and upset customers when it’s not handled properly. Business intelligence and deep analytics are really key to helping to understand how clients can enable self-service features, handle overflow in the back office while those self-service features get optimized for customers, without sacrificing CX.
We think generative artificial intelligence (AI), tools such as ChatGPT, can be a gamechanger in the next few years for utilities, and we’re investing with that theme in mind. Utilities get a lot of criticism for their digital experiences and websites feeling somewhat outdated. Chatbots powered by AI can actually help utilities catch up quickly with a modern experience on their sites that delivers great value to customers. Basically, with generative AI and a chatbot, all the content on a utility website becomes a knowledgebase that the chatbot can use to find answers to customer questions. The tech team may tell me it’s not quite that easy, but the reality is that it’s no longer that difficult for utilities to leverage chatbot technology to improve the digital customer experience, and we’re excited to be a part of it.
MC: When you engage with a utility with various opportunities you have to boost their abilities, what are the priorities they tend to bring to you? And do you think they’re approaching these priorities in the right way or do they tend to miss the mark and need your assistance with that?
BM: I think most of our clients juggle so many initiatives that it’s helpful for them to have an expert in the customer lifecycle and CX that can bring different perspectives to their plans. ibex works with a lot of heavily regulated industries with strong sensitivity to customer satisfaction or Net Promoter Scores (NPS) that have also faced a radical change in customer expectations. We always talk about how utilities share their customers with a lot of other companies and industries, and their expectations for immediate and multi-channel customer support comes from retail and entertainment and finance industries or companies like Apple or Netflix or Amazon. We work with a lot of those companies and their customers, so ibex has a unique perspective on the CX best practices. Now, not all of them fit the unique scenarios that utilities experience, but we have the benefit of bringing those insights to our clients and helping evolve their CX strategy faster than they could do it on their own.
MC: Why did you feel compelled to get more involved in the Energy Central Community? And what value do you hope to bring to your peers on the platform?
BM: As we work with more utility clients, Energy Central provides me with the best way to learn more about the industry’s needs and connect me with such a large community. It’s the best way to stay engaged across so many of the topics on the minds of our partners, and also get insights and answers to questions from so many professionals and practitioners in the industry.
I hope that I can bring some of the best practices and insights from across our very diverse team and the industries that we work with to add value to the Energy Central community and to help everyone keep pace with trends that we see, as well.
MC: Where else can Energy Central Community members find you?
BM: ibex will be at E Source in Denver this September, so any Energy Central Community members who also attend we would invite them to find us to talk in more detail about the full suite of CX solutions ibex offers.
Thanks to Bob McCallister for joining me for this interview and for providing a wealth of insights an expertise to the Energy Central Community. You can trust that Michael will be available for you to reach out and connect, ask questions, and more as an Energy Central member, so be sure to make him feel welcome when you see him across the platform.