Chatbot 'Toni' stars for Trustpower during COVID-19 lockdown

Chatbot 'Toni' stars for Trustpower during COVID-19 lockdown

Trustpower faced headwinds during 2020 as warmer weather and other factors took a chunk out of earnings

Chatbot Toni did some of the heavy lifting for Trsutpower during the COVID-19 lockdown

Chatbot Toni did some of the heavy lifting for Trsutpower during the COVID-19 lockdown

Credit: Supplied

A virtual service agent called Toni is proving her worth for energy and telecommunications company Trustpower as it responds to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Trustpower’s chatbot helped to manage a surge in enquiries at the start of the level four lockdown, handling the most common customer questions.

“Toni is really helping our customers stay in touch and in control of their account,” said Savonne Wadsworth, Trustpower’s digital customer experience manager.

“Her ability to instantly adapt has been invaluable as we deal with our customers’ changing needs through the crisis."

Operating across Trustpower’s website and app, Toni can quickly and efficiently assist with common queries regarding balances, payments and products.

Customers can be forwarded to human help if required.

Toni is one part of Trustpower's investment in digitisation that is proving its worth during the crisis.

“Investment in Trustpower’s ISP network and meeting customers’ increasing demand for digital interaction with market leading automation has meant that we can continue to meet and exceed customer expectations, which have been amplified by the COVID-19 situation," said Trsutpower chief executive David Prentice.

Reporting its annual results today, Trustpower noted that 79 per cent of customer interactions during the year happened through digital channels or through its virtual workforce.

However, during the early stages of the pandemic 91 per cent of over 830,000 customer contacts were managed via digital channels.

Datacom helped to deliver the app using its #thinksmash AI process to focus the product direction and roadmap and then to rapidly prototype the solution.

It also helped to integrate the digital assistant into Trustpower's Oracle chat system.

“Toni learns with each interaction, picking up sentiment and natural language," Wadsworth said. "She has the ability to sense frustration and act accordingly.

"Toni’s purpose is to be proactive and helpful to customers.”

Wadsworth said Trustpower appreciated there is a "fine line" with this type of technology, which is why the company was constantly reviewing customer feedback to ensure her conversations are delivering enhanced value.

Toni is designed to perform transactional tasks, offer advice, and point customers in the right direction for
more complex enquiries.

“We are now developing Toni’s ability to personalise our customers’ experience a step further," Wadsworth said.

"We want her to proactively suggest improvements, such as serving up payment or plan options that could better suit their lifestyle, offer advice on how to reduce power consumption over winter or perform upcoming actions such as updating an expiring credit card.”

Trustpower reported a subdued result, with operating earnings (EBITDAF) of $186.5 million, down $35.7 million or 16 per cent.

Retail earnings (EBITDAF) of $35.3 million, were down 45 per cent while generation earnings (EBITDAF) of $154.9 million were down 10 per cent.

Underlying earnings after tax of $75.5 million were down $27.1 million or 26 per cent.

Trustpower reported that its app, which was launched in 2017, was now active on more than 90,000 devices. Its growing list of functions included online bill payments, due date notifications, faults and outages alerts, usage history and LPG bottle ordering. 

A track and trace feature also helps customers navigate the complex journey to connecting to fibre.

Operational highlights for the year included the launch of wireless broadband services, the development of mobile capability, passing 100,000 broadband customers, strengthening of the company's ISP network and continued gains in digitisation and automation.

Trustpower also reported it was now the country’s fourth largest broadband retailer by number of connections.

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