target-marketing-strategiesThe customer experience for utilities remains a weakness that utilities know they need to face.

Consumer choice means ratepayers are now customers

  • The cost-plus monopoly model is dead, and even municipal utilities face possible of extinction at the hands of competitors and tech giants.
  • New technologies and changing regulations require radical adaptation in the way utilities deliver services.
  • Consumers now expect instant, useful information and control. Digital, real-time, online interactions are now the norm, and customers used to online retail like Amazon and services like Netflix, expect a similar experience with their utilities.

Utility customer experience needs to be individualized

Across industries, customer service is getting more and more personalized. Customers expect, digital experiences tailored to their needs and available at every moment. Because of ubiquitous, “Rapid, web-based interactions with Amazon, Netflix and other high-tech service providers, ‘Our customers have come to expect more from us[,]’ regarding power consumption data and energy-use management… [and we are] stepping up to the challenge,” Gretchen Stanford, customer relations manager  at Loveland Water & Power told The American Public Power Association.

End-to-end, bidirectional data

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory listed, “Individualized customer service,” as, “one of three key megatrends…” that are, “driving change in the electric utility industry,” in the lab’s cost recovery report. They said, “The digital grid is evolving into a multi-path network of power and information flows that will use data analytics for grid management and optimization from end to end.”

They give three example trends driving the larger customized service megatrend:

  • Large commercial customers… increasingly want renewable energy to meet their corporate sustainability goals”
  • Cities and towns are requesting customized services, such as help with microgrids, smart city services or renewable energy…”
  • Residential customers want greater control over their energy use…, renewable power or private rooftop solar to generate their own electricity.”

Utility Customer Expectations

Utility customers expect options, convenience, customization, and realtime information in almost all other services. So, despite, their historic monopolies, utilities now need to respond. “Choice is everywhere,” says a 2017 GreenTech Media article about utility trends, “customer choices in energy are quickly evolving.” Areas of change include:

  • IoT devices — no longer limited to only thermostats
  • “community solar” and “solar lease options”
  • storage
  • electric vehicles
  • “wholesale [energy] market[s]”

Water utilities face some of the same challenges. Customers need not wait for utilities to decide what to do or present them with options. Regulators and tech giants stand ready to change, augment or replace utility functions.

So change is coming. Utilities’ only choice is whether they will be the ones to implement it, or will wait and let it happen to them.

Customer experience thinking is the real key

It’s not just about trying act more friendly or texting an alert when a bill is ready — then hoping to reduce complaints. CX is realtime communication and anytime control — before the bill. Retailers focus on CX for a sound financial reason: customers will pay more for engaging, personalized customer experiences.

RightNow’s Annual Customer Experience Impact Report found in 2012 that, “86% of buyers will pay more for a better customer experience.” At the current rate of growth, “Customer experience is projected to overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator by 2020,” found Frost & Sullivan in 2015. Utilities, beset by chronically low levels of customer satisfaction, rising cost to serve and the urgent need to invest in infrastructure upgrades, cannot afford to ignore this.

The stakes are high: tech giants are at the gates

The rewards are significant. So are the consequences of inaction. Do nothing, or get it wrong, and customers make their dissatisfaction felt faster than ever. “More than half of customers today say they’ve switched companies solely because of poor user experiences,” analyst Daniel Newman recently wrote in Forbes.

Retail banking had a higher customer service score than utilities in 2016, yet they were unable to hold off the tech giants. Banks responded CX too late, and the tech giants are, “Inside the walls,” McKinsey & Co. reported in 2017. Utilities face more challenges too. Banks do not require the extensive investment in infrastructure, for instance.

Fortunately, utilities are starting to adapt. ”They’re getting it. They've been enlightened, but they’re a little slower in the implementation. But they have come very far, compared to where they were," said John Hazen, senior director of the utility practice at J.D. Power.

What does a good customer experience look like?

So what is a good customer experience like? An excellent, “Engaging customer experience… is personal, fast, easy, and useful,” says Newman in the Forbes article.

At Brilliency, we can help your utility start gaining the strategic information and analytics you need to provide an excellent customer experience. See what your customer experience could be like today.

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