Remember when you had to make a phone call to make a restaurant reservation? Or go to a travel agent to book a vacation? What about anxiously awaiting a call from a doctor with your test results? Or walking into a bank to deposit a check? Yeah, I don’t miss those days either.

Regardless of the industry, customer satisfaction is king and impacts the reputation—and ultimate success—of any company. Last week the power went out in my house. I immediately used my phone to figure out how to report an outage or see if I could find information about when it might be restored. I typed my address into my service provider’s website to file a report. The next screen displayed: “We do not have your address on record.” Ummm, okay.  Next, I tried their 800 number. After repeatedly trying to articulate my speech as clearly as possible to the automated teller, the call was dropped. I called back. This time I got to the point where I could report the outage through their automated system, but it required an account number or social security number to continue. The account is in my husband’s name and I didn’t have that information. I was not a happy customer. I texted a few neighbors and they were also not happy customers.

Just like I track my Amazon packages, or monitor my kids’ school lunch account, or check if my flight is on time, I want my utility account information at my fingertips.  I don’t just want it, I expect it. The simple way to achieve this is through a customer portal solution.

Customer portals drive customer satisfaction

A water municipality in Texas was in a drought situation and rates had increased. Homeowners were upset about higher bills and Customer Service Reps were spending practically eight hours per day answering calls from disgruntled customers. With the roll-out of a customer portal, the utility was able to educate homeowners on the tier-billing implications during the drought. Customers had more control of their water bill because they could easily manage usage and set threshold alerts. And through understanding their everyday usage, homeowners were able to spot anomalies in the data and address issues by themselves, for example, fixing a leaky toilet. In the first year of using the customer portal, this municipality saved $67,000 and 15 million gallons of water. In addition, the high bill complaint calls diminished to an average of one per day!

One of my favorite customer portal stories also happened in the summer time. A homeowner had set an alert to notify him if there was any water usage during his normal work hours (when he was not home). This a common and recommended practice to catch things like a hot water heater leak or a hose left on. One morning while he was sitting in his office, he received a text message from the utility, notifying him about high water usage. After calling his family to confirm no one was home, he decided to investigate on his own. Can you imagine his surprise when he found his next door neighbor filling up her pool by with his outdoor water spigot? I don’t want to think about the uncomfortable conversation that ensued, but I know he was very grateful to have received the alert.

Most utilities don’t have to compete to gain and keep customers, but forward-thinking companies like Amazon are changing what customers expect—access to information, a feeling of control of their usage and consumption, and convenience to manage their account. Service providers can gain a “quick win” in satisfying these evolving customer needs through the implementation of a customer portal. To learn more, check out our Viewpoint on customer engagement.