Know How: An analytics platform to improve customer experience

by Mark Thompson

Mark Thompson

Mark Thompson of AMT-SYBEX explains how dataflow-level analytics can help pinpoint operational issues and boost customer service.

At the forefront of our minds in developing our solutions has been the fundamental challenge facing energy suppliers today: ensuring customer satisfaction and driving down cost to serve.

Effective operational management of industry dataflows and related processes plays a key role in delivering on these objectives. And over the past 15 years, we’ve worked closely with our clients to build solutions that process and control large volumes of industry data from hundreds of market participants, enabling the successful automation of vital processes such as meter registrations and change-of-supplier.

Today, five of the “Big Six” energy suppliers rely on our dataflow management solutions, as do Xoserve and a number of independent and industrial and commercial suppliers. Our systems have processed a vast quantity of industry data – in excess of 15 billion messages across all implementations since our software was first deployed in 2001.

However, taming and managing these complex dataflows is only the first step: we also can see an increasing need for our clients to drive additional value from the data as it passes through these core market interaction processes. The ability to analyse transactions at the dataflow level presents a huge opportunity for energy companies to seize competitive advantage, because deeper insight can reveal new ways to improve customer service, reduce operational costs, and protect margins.

This is critical because energy shoppers today are better informed than ever before about their options. For example, within a couple of clicks, consumers can visit supplier comparison websites and view detailed listings that rank energy suppliers on customer satisfaction. For energy suppliers, the ability to score highly on these customer care metrics is vital in order to retain existing customers and win new ones.

So what’s the difference between the kind of reporting that energy companies are doing today, and the more detailed dataflow-level analytics that we advocate for the future?

Today, most of our clients have built dedicated central reporting platforms that take in data from a variety of sources, such as their ERP systems, but they typically only contain high-level operational data. For example, they keep records of whether a given process (such as a meter registration or a change-of-supplier request) succeeded or failed. But if you want to find out what actually happened to that process at a lower level of detail, or track resubmission where failures occur and identify the root cause of these failures, the detail isn’t there to support this kind of analytical enquiry.

Say, for example, on a particular day an energy retailer needs to handle 100 new meter registration requests. The retailer receives messages from the registration system to say that 30 of the 100 registrations are rejected. The rejection status may be stored in the core system – but it is not possible to look with enough granularity to find out why those rejections were occurring.

Perhaps there’s an issue with specific agents, or a data quality problem that is responsible for driving those failures. However, the data required to diagnose these issues resides within the detail of the industry data flows, and isn’t visible in the existing reporting system. As a result, 30 new customers now face delays unless those failures are addressed.

By providing drill-down access to dataflow-level data, the problems can be understood. By looking at these patterns over time and building measures to deal with common failures, it is possible to ensure that such issues do not reoccur, which means you can avoid increased helpdesk calls and complaints from your customers.

To that end, we’ve recently been enhancing our Affinity reporting platform that can dive down to this level, and that can integrate with both our own dataflow management solution and other products or in-house solutions. This is therefore an offering that we can provide to any UK Energy Retailer regardless of whether they are an existing Affinity Suite user. It takes away the technical complexities of the underlying data structures and provides visual indicators that highlight issues that need to be addressed by the client. It also enables the user to drill down through the hierarchy of data to the level of individual customer’s meters. As a result, the causes of errors can easily be identified, and problems can be addressed quickly.

Looking at the bigger picture, this type of solution can also help market participants manage their relationships with their partners and agents. For example, if one agent is generating a particularly high rate of failure, it is likely that they are not performing adequately against their SLAs – information that can be very valuable during future agent selection and contract negotiation processes.

Equally, if different market participants submit conflicting or incomplete information relating to a meter point or customer, analytics can help to identify the discrepancy so that users can correct or reconcile the data. This helps to avoid data quality issues that could cause larger problems at a later stage.

For end-users, this new generation of in-depth analytics tools need to be simple to operate. Even though the data is detailed, the results need to be visualised in a clear, simple way that allows decision-makers to see the wood for the trees. Making the tools easy to use also means that they can be deployed and adopted rapidly, with minimal need for user training.

Our approach, for example, is to personalise the user interface to provide the types of information and analysis that each group of users needs to see: customer gains and/or losses, asset works, metering agent performance, and so on. We then present the user with an interactive dashboard featuring charts and graphs that they can filter down to the individual customer meter point.

Dataflow-level analytics is part of a key strategic theme that AMT-SYBEX is pursuing to help our clients generate more value from large datasets across our product portfolio. In an increasingly competitive and pressurised energy market, extracting new insight from this priceless operational data is vital if suppliers are to retain loyal customers and grow their market share. With our analytics solution, we’re at the forefront of supporting that vision.