Energy supplier Utilita has deployed ‘digital workers’ to enhance its customer service and accelerate digital transformation that it hopes will improve its customer service.

The British firm has recruited the automated workforce to relieve its human employees of laborious, time-consuming tasks, make the business more efficient and improve customer experience.

Although this isn’t the first time automation has been used within contact centres, this is the first time AI-enabled digital workers have been deployed in this way within the energy and utility sector.

Utilita director of IT Ian Burgess said: “We’re already seeing the positive impact that digital workers can deliver to both our customers and our own team.

“But we’re really only starting to scratch the surface when it comes to the potential benefits of intelligent automation.”


Who is energy supplier Utilita?

Utilita is best known for its ‘Smart Pay As You Go Energy’ meters, which allow customers to manage their energy usage and check the credit on their device.

The company was established in 2003 and serves 800,000 customers and manages 1.3 million meters across the UK.

The company claims to have saved Britain’s households more than £500m ($644m) since 2010.


How is Utilita’s digital workforce being deployed?

The company is deploying AI-enabled digital workers alongside its operational teams to optimise customer experience, speed up processes and free-up staff for higher-value tasks.

Within the first 12 months, Utilita has automated 24 processes, using the award-winning SaaS-based intelligent automation platform created by intelligent automation vendor Thoughtonomy.

The processes include switching customers from credit agreements to pre-pay schemes, ordering new pre-payment top-up cards for customers as well as handling the transfer.

Prior to the robots, the company’s contact centre manually checked data systems, validated information and sent out a series of emails to customers as well as the card processing company detailing the payment request.

Utilita electric
Digital workers allow customers to contact Utilita and have their enquirers answered at all times (credit: Pixabay)

Now, the cloud-based digital workers execute all the required steps, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, reducing the average time it takes to bring customers on board and ensuring they can access services at all times.

Thoughtonomy CEO Terry Walby said: “Technology innovation is absolutely essential to differentiation and growth in a fiercely competitive energy market.

“Utilita has recognised the potential for intelligent automation to deliver on digital transformation goals, both now and in the future.

“They are already reaping the benefits in terms of business efficiency but, as they scale up their automation programme and incorporate AI, they are now perfectly placed to drive business performance and agility.

“This is when intelligent automation really starts to become a game-changer, opening up new revenue streams and enabling organisations to pursue new opportunities which simply would not be feasible or affordable with a traditional resourcing model.”


Utilita’s digital workers in action

The roll-out of the digital workers has allowed Utilita to tap into more efficient methods of signing-up new customers.

In February, it took on 31,000 customers from failed Scottish provider, Our Power, and then a further 35,000 from Manchester-based Eversmart in September.

In both instances, digital workers were used to support the verification of details and the set-up of new accounts across a range of customer relationship management and billing systems, which Utilita said was critical in completing the process effectively.

The new strategy also focuses on automating a range of field services processes, where human workers are required to attend a location.

The robots are now scheduling appointments for field engineers to perform installs and meter checks.

As a result, Utilita said this has eliminated wasted site visits where commercial customers were not yet connected to its energy supply, leading to significantly higher rates of engineer utilisation.


The future for Utilita’s digital workers

The energy supplier is now training AI-enabled digital workers to read, categorise and forward more than 2,000 customer queries each week to the correct customer service team.

It will use natural language processing, which focuses on enabling computers to understand and process human languages, to ensure that queries ranging from change of tenancy details through to rescheduling engineer visits can be acted upon sooner.

This will allow the customer service teams to dedicate their time to resolving queries rather than being tied up logging communications.

Utilita electric
The digital workers will help Utilita’s human customer service staff focus on higher-value tasks (credit: Flickr/CurrencyFair)

The long-term intelligent automation programme forms a critical part of Utilita’s overall IT transformation strategy.

Burgess said: “Over the next few years, we will look to incorporate artificial intelligence, such as natural language understanding and sentiment analysis technologies so that our digital workers are able to fulfil more sophisticated tasks.

“We are putting intelligent automation at the very centre of our wider IT transformation programme, making it integral to the design of key initiatives such as enabling and promoting customer self-service through mobile apps and online platforms.

“This was one of the most critical factors in our decision to work with Thoughtonomy. Their cloud-based platform provides us with the flexibility and functionality we need as we embark on this exciting journey.”

Utilita said that the automation team is now setting its sights on more complex internal processes in order to help drive benefits to its staff directly.

Examples of this include plans to make the likes of routine employment reference requests a thing of the past for the HR team.

In addition, the digital workers will set up email addresses, payment details and access to company systems for new employees, which Utilita said will allow its HR department to focus on the human aspects of welcoming new members of staff to the business.