AI + H2O = Engaged customers

By Morgan Lloyd

Water supplier Welsh Water serves 1.4 million homes and businesses in Wales, Hereford, Worcester and Gloucestershire with over 828 million litres of water every day.  As the fourth largest company in Wales with over 3,000 employees, our not for profit status means that instead of rewarding shareholders, our profits are reinvested back into the business for the benefit of customers.  Because of that, we take engaging with customers very seriously; getting their input in to areas of focus is core to the businesses strategy, not just a corporate responsibility exercise.

Our latest engagement campaign is called ‘have your say’, and seeks to get customer feedback on whether they see sewerage, flood prevention, beaches, water quality and colour etc as priority areas for investment.  In itself, seeking feedback from a customer base on areas like this isn’t a new concept: it’s something we’ve done before as other water suppliers (including those with shareholders to report to) have too. What’s different this time is the mechanism being used to do it.

It’s important to us to engage with customers through channels they prefer to use, and chat bots are clearly the hot new trend when it comes to all digital interaction. With two billion messages exchanged each month between customers and businesses online its clear this is the way some customers want to do business, and the fact we’re a water supplier doesn’t exclude us from that. Centenialls in particular are used to dealing with companies online – from booking hotel rooms to buying clothes they have come of age using social media to start and stop business at a time and place convenient to them – answering a phone survey or returning direct mail simly isn’t on their radar.

With the growth in messenger platforms a chat bot felt like the obvious choice.  The advantages were clear – built on the Facebook messenger platform many customers would already have and be familiar with it would enable us to gain feedback  via whatever mobile device our customers preferred – and at a time and place to suit them.

Using a bot also offered us the potential to reach out to centennials, and as more of them become utility customers in their own right its more important than ever that we as a business learn how to communicate with them sooner rather than later.

The bot also offered an exciting opportunity to create a first, something we were proud to do: go bi-lingual.  As a Welsh company its out of the question to not offer our customers the opportunity to talk to us in Welsh, so we created what we believe is the UK’s first bilingual chat bot  – opening the sphere of potential customers who will get involved with the campaign wider still.

The bot itself is simple: In a choice of language the bot presents information on a range of topical issues, and asks the respondent to ‘rank’ on a scale of 1 to 5 how important it is to them. The responses can then be fed in to views collected at events run over the campaign period and utilised in making decisions on strategic direction for projects.

Whilst human interaction will always be a part of the service we offer the bot represents a new and exciting chapter for us as a company. We want to be seen as innovative and up to date with how our customers are doing business. Our neighbours in financial services and legal sectors are already making use of chat bots to do real business –from habito the mortgage broker supporting borrowers with getting on the property ladder to ‘do not pay’ who are providing legal challenges to parking fines – the similarities are striking. A survey chat bot is the first step and offering the first bi-lingual Welsh-English bot is a real coup for us. We’ll certainly be keeping a close eye on how use of AI for business grows, for now we’re excited to be engaging with a wider range of customers than ever before.

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