"The energy world is changing rapidly: from the phasing out of nuclear energy and coal to the expansion of renewable energies and electromobility and the associated volatility, flexibilisation and decentralisation. AI can play a decisive role here in shaping the transformation."

Kerstin Andreae, Chairwoman of the Executive Board of the Swiss Federal Government for Energy and Water Management

When markets and consumer demands change rapidly, companies are constantly faced with the question: "How can we remain competitive?

Challenges for energy suppliers

It is not easy for energy suppliers to differentiate themselves from the competition through the product alone. The energy supplied via the grid has a uniform quality. This is why electricity and gas suppliers differ primarily in terms of price, customer service and ecological standards.

However, the majority of the electricity costs consist of the levies, duties and taxes set by the state, and the costs of transport and measurement of electricity. In 2019, the German Federal Agency found that electricity suppliers themselves only keep about 25 percent of the price of a kilowatt hour on average. This leaves them only little room for manoeuvre in their pricing policy.

It is therefore all the more important to understand the customers and their wishes in order to be able to offer them appropriate rates and services. This requires comprehensive data and information on the wishes and usage behavior of customers. On the other hand, companies need technologies that enable them to meet customers' wishes for self-service solutions, round-the-clock service, and fast answers. This is exactly where chat and voice bots come in:

What are chat- and voicebots?

Chatbots are dialogue systems that allow users to communicate with the bot in natural language via text input and buttons. With Voicebots this happens via spoken language. They can answer users' questions automatically or guide them through processes such as buying a product or transmitting the current counter reading. Chatbots can be used on websites, in messenger channels or in apps and voicebots via smart devices, phones and mobile phones. 

How bots can give energy suppliers a competitive advantage

Bots are available to users around the clock and enable immediate, automated processing of requests. As a result, users can resolve their concerns within minutes and are not bound to fixed service times. 

At first glance, this automated processing of inquiries may seem to be at odds with excellent customer service. Wouldn't customers prefer direct contact with an employee? Indeed, customer preferences have changed in recent years:

According to the study "The New Rules of Customer Engagement" by Freshworks, 76% of consumers prefer to solve their problems themselves before contacting customer support. The fact that bots can not only answer individual questions, but also perform processes makes them an excellent self-service solution.

However, when customers do contact real employees, they expect them to respond promptly and to have enough time to deal with their concerns in detail. By using bots, the employees are relieved and no longer have to deal with standard requests. This gives them the opportunity to deal with more complex queries more intensively and to solve them quickly and to the satisfaction of the customer.

Furthermore, bots can be used on several channels without much additional effort. This allows customers to contact companies via their preferred communication channel. 

"70% of customers worldwide prefer brands that provide service across multiple channels (email, chat, social, etc.)"

Freshworks - "The New Rules of Customer Engagement

In order to address customers in a personalized way and to offer them the right offers at the right time,Energy suppliers need comprehensive information and data on the wishes and usage behaviour of their customers. The advantage of bots is that users ask them questions and formulate their requests directly. These inputs can be evaluated by the support team. In this way, companies learn directly what their customers want, what moves them and where there is still room for improvement.

But artificial intelligence can not only be applied in the area of customer service. Within system planning, maintenance, repair or in network and system operation, there are many possible applications for using bots efficiently in the energy industry. A detailed overview is provided in the dossier "Artificial intelligence for the energy industry" of the Federal Association of Energy and Water Management.

Examples of chatbots in the energy sector

An example of a bot in the energy industry is the chatbot Paul. It was developed by us for the company enviaM:

Chatbot Paul is available to users on the website and answers questions about energy and electricity. For example, if customers want to change their customer data or find out about additional services, they must first find the right page with the desired information on a website. This effort is eliminated with the virtual assistant Paul, which functions as an interactive FAQ. The users communicate what they want to know via text or buttons and Paul automatically searches for the right information. If necessary, he also provides the link for the right page on the homepage. So the customers can call up the right page with just one click.

The energy supplier Süwag also uses a chatbot in customer service. The chatbot Karl not only offers an FAQ function, but can also make changes to customer data independently. Thus, when customers move house, they can inform the chatbot of their new address or the new meter reading. Karl assigns all of this information to the correct customer account using the customer number. The redirection to a page of the homepage and the tedious filling out of forms are thus completely eliminated.

Chatbot Karl

Another example of a chatbot in the energy sector is Emma from ESWE. She refers customers to the right pages or to the customer portal if they want to change their discount, for example. But she also provides information on the correct behavior in the event of water damage. In addition, she offers the users the opportunity to use the live chat and communicate with a real employee. This option offers the customer an additional plus in service.

"In the past, a lot of S&P 500 CEOs wished they had started thinking sooner than they did about their internet strategy. "I think five years from now there will be a number of S&P 500 CEOs that will wish they'd started thinking earlier than they did about their AI strategy.

Andrew NG Co-Founder and former director of Google Brain

Bots offer energy companies the opportunity to provide their customers with excellent service, to gain deep insights into the needs of users and to present themselves as a progressive company that embeds digitization and artificial intelligence in its corporate culture.

Get our case study and find out how Süwag has implemented the Chatbot project together with us, what successes Chatbot Karl can show and benefit from our learnings: