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South Staffs Water launches new Alexa app

South Staffs Water has created its own Alexa Skill to provide a new means of interacting with its customers.

Using Amazon's Alexa ‘virtual assistant’ technology, the new service was developed to meet growing customer demand for ways of interacting with South Staffs Water at a time and place that suits them.

South Staffs Water’s customer feedback showed that its customers want to use technology to its best advantage, without being ruled by it.

It also found that 25 per cent of customers are likely to have a voice-activated assistant by the end of 2018.

As a result of these findings, South Staffs has endeavoured to make life easier for its customers by offering them a new Alexa-based service in addition to the existing ways of engaging with South Staffs Water.

As part of a home environment, Alexa is able to communicate with people via vocal interaction and respond to spoken instructions. This enables Alexa to carry out a variety of tasks, from playing music and making to-do lists to setting alarms and providing weather, traffic and other useful information, such as news reports. Users can extend the Alexa capabilities by installing ‘skills’ and adding functionality via apps.

South Staffs Water has created such a capability through Alexa, which enables its customers to communicate with the water company directly. Using South Staffs Water’s ‘skills’, Alexa can provide immediate advice on a range of matters and South Staffs has identified four principle actions to aid customers.

These include allowing customers to contact South Staffs Water on issues such as problems with their water supply – for example, if it is cloudy or has developed an odour. Alexa can also provide details of customers’ account balances and make it simple to submit a meter reading at any time of day or night. In the case of emergencies, like a leak being discovered or other supply issues, Alexa can provide the right information, such as advice on what to do.

Instructions for the new app include such phrases as “Alexa, tell South Staffs Water I have low water pressure” or “Alexa, ask South Staffs Water where my stop tap is” and automated responses from Alexa, formulated by South Staffs Water, will provide expert advice and follow-up actions in seconds. 

South Staffs Water plans on introducing more features for the service in the future.

During the development, the team has also worked closely with Sandwell Visually Impaired (SVI) and gathered feedback from other vulnerable customers. South Staffs Water said early demonstrations of Alexa’s new capabilities have been extremely well received by these groups, and South Staffs Water will be developing further unique features into the next phase of the Alexa development.

Tony Averis, chair of Sandwell Visually Impaired, said: “Working alongside South Staffs Water in the development of the Alexa Skill gave us the opportunity to bring together what the customer wanted from the skill and we are looking forward to the future developments bringing in new features to enhance the experience. The features incorporated within the skill currently surpass those of other water utility companies - something the others should be aiming to work towards."

Sandra Troth from SVI added: “We welcome any advances technology can provide us with to make our lives safer or easier. We have been delighted to be involved in the development of South Staff Water’s skills for Alexa and are looking forward to taking advantage of the skills when the features go live.”

Phil Newland, managing director at South Staffs Water, added: “We aim to be one of the leading water companies in the UK when it comes to customer service, new technology and courting innovation. Alexa provides an excellent opportunity for us to communicate with our customers directly in a truly interactive way. It’s been interesting teaching Alexa about water issues and she is now helping households throughout our area with their day-to-day lives using her ‘skills’. We hope that the rapid response and wide knowledge of the system will result in substantial time and money savings for both us and our valued customers.”

Author: Robin Hackett, editor, WWT
Topic: Innovation
Tags: apps , South Staffs Water , technology


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