When the Internet craze first started, many companies created Web sites because a lot of other companies had them. They felt it was important to show they were keeping up with technology. But when they created their sites, many companies didn’t ask themselves what they wanted them to do.
Public power utilities, take note! Every month, more of your customers make the decision to use the Internet for shopping, gathering information, travel, continuing education and improving their lives. Is it easy for customers to communicate and do business with you via your Web site? Is your site an effective marketing tool where customers can establish service and buy other products and services you offer? Or is it one of those sites that was created just because?
Here are some ideas that will turn your Web site into an effective marketing tool and a cyberspace destination.
Wow customers with online accounts. Your CSRs take calls on a regular basis from customers who have questions about their bills. Give customers access to their accounts 24 hours a day through your Web site and cut the time your CSRs spend taking these calls.
Wow them again with online payments. To make it easy for customers to do business with you, set up online bill paying that accepts credit and debit cards. Customers can pay you 24 hours a day without leaving their home.
Reduce complaint calls. During winter and summer, every utility receives calls from customers complaining about the cost of their gas or power usage. Add an area to your Web site that gives customers ideas on how to reduce energy consumption. Make it easy for them to do a self-audit of their energy usage. Educate them on the amount of energy that different appliances consume. Your Web site should be a source of information to help customers conserve and reduce their bills.
Check your customers’ pulse. Customers are dying to tell you what they think. Add a button to your site that gives customers a way to share their opinions. Send a brief e-mail survey after hookup of new service or after each repair order is completed. Ask customers to rate their satisfaction with quality and speed of the service. Let them offer suggestions on what your utility could do to improve the customer-service experience. Don’t forget to provide an immediate response to their feedback. There are a number of Internet tools that make it easy for utilities to get feedback from their customers. One of those is at www.zoomerang.com.
High-tech product promotion. Some utilities sell more than power. They offer long-distance telephone, cable TV, high-speed Internet access and a number of energy-saving products. Promote those services on your Web site. Run Web-promotion specials to test how effectively your site sell products. Your site should be a successful way to promote products to your customers.
Make searching easy. Sites with lots of information can be difficult to navigate as customers look for answers to questions. Create a search function on your home page where customers type a word in a box and end up with a number of possible matches. This makes it easy for them to find what they’re looking for.
Let’s chat. Online customer service is a simple way for site visitors to “chat” with someone from your company via computer. It allows live interaction with customers while they visit your site. There are a number of companies that provide online customer-service software. Human Click (www.humanclick.com) and Live Helper (www.liveperson.com) are two that can help.
Create a list of frequently asked questions. Your CSRs answer the same questions countless times. Put the most common questions on the Web site with the answers. Suddenly, your customers can get answers to simple questions any time they want.
Make fast response a priority. If a customer called your company and left a voice mail message, you wouldn’t wait 24 hours to call them back. A Web site inquiry from a customer should be responded to immediately. Customers want quick feedback. Send test e-mails to continually check your company’s response to inquiries.
Test load time. How many times have you gone to a site and had trouble getting it to load? See how fast it takes your site to load from a 28k modem. Many of your customers have high-speed Internet access but plenty still use dial-up service. Graphics are visually pleasing, but if it takes 20 to 30 seconds for a page to load, your customers may become frustrated.
Forget flash, cool graphics. Customers aren’t interested in flash technology or great graphics. They want quick answers to their questions. From your home page, customers should find the answer to any question in three clicks or less.
Testimonials rock! Post those great customer-service testimonials. People visiting your site for the first time can read what other satisfied customers have to say about your products and services.
Track results. You’ve spent thousands of dollars building and marketing your Web site. Do you track the results of your investment? Purchase software to track your Web activity so you will know where your visitors come from, how much time they spend at your site and if they come back. Such software can be found at www.webtrends.com.
Look at your Web site through the eyes of new or existing customers. Is it rich with information that answers any question a customer might have about establishing service? Does it explain the benefits of your other products? It may be time to ask yourself if your Web site meets your customers’ needs.
David Saxby is president of Measure-X, a Phoenix, Ariz.-based measurement, training and recognition company that specializes in customer service and sales skill training for utility companies.