The utility and energy markets are at a unique point in their history. Market deregulation, new competitors and changed customer expectations mean that legacy companies need to fundamentally shift their point of view and start focusing on issues like customer experience and relationships and digital transformation to support their operations. However, this is not easy for entrenched players whose focus has traditionally been on supply efficiency.
You don’t have to look far to see industries that were disrupted very recently. In just a few years, banks have come under intense attack from FinTech companies that might lack the banks’ deep product portfolio but make up for it with extreme focus on customer experience.
Travel industry tells a similar cautionary tale. Large investments by hotel chains are being undermined by digital platforms like Airbnb and aggregators that make it easy to compare offers and get the best deal.
Utility and energy companies are not immune to disruption. With increased competition, legacy companies need to look at ways to drive customer loyalty in addition to focus on cost. The challenge is that customer expectations have changed. Companies, like Google, Amazon and many others have completely transformed our expectation of a service. We now expect instant response and companies to be available across all available channels.
Utility industry lags others in customer satisfaction
According to the Centric Digital DIMENSIONS Score by analyst J.D. Power, which evaluates digital proficiency, the utility industry scores 571 on a 1,000-point scale. The retail sector, by contrast, scores 771. This is a lot of ground to cover (Source: J.D.Power).
However, utility and energy industries are different. A recent Accenture study has shown that users are not really interested about communication with their energy providers. 44 percent of customers said they have no interest in interacting with them (Source: Accenture).
Looking hard at the customer journey
In the past, the only customer interaction with a utility company was the bill. Today, there multiple different journeys. For example: bill payment, support for complaints or payments issues and energy use management. All of these provide unique opportunities to deliver outstanding service that increases satisfaction and long-term loyalty.
There are multiple core services that utilities should and must deliver:
- Ability to track usage. This is an important digital initiative that increases satisfaction by empowering users to easily see their usage and stay in control.
- Online complaints. Instead of just a phone call, companies should support modern digital channels, such as e-mail, social media, online forms and chatbots.
- Improved support availability. Chatbots can be used to automate support, allowing companies to deliver at least the basic level of support outside of business hours.
- Notification of outages or technician visits. Customers can be informed of outages or technician appointments by social media, e-mail or SMS.
- Self-service. Customers appreciate having the tools they need to change their service or payment options instead of having to contact the company.
- Deploy multiple channels. Your customers want to choose the channel they use to contact you, so you should support as many as possible. McKinsey’s recent e-care survey indicates that 60 percent of customers were less than fully satisfied with the channels available for contacting the utility, and almost 45 percent would prefer to use digital channels (Source: McKinsey).
This digital-first thinking also means costs savings. Online support can be automated more easily than call centres and can result in lower headcount and reduced costs. Also, automation is valued by customers. Previously cited Accenture study has shown 6 out 10 energy consumers value comfort and the convenience of automation. (Source: Accenture).
Now is the time to kickstart your customer-centric initiative
Once your customer experience strategy is in place, you need the right software that can help you deliver it. There are several functions a CRM solution can help you implement quickly and easily.
Self-care. You can create a portal that empowers customers to make changes to their services, request support or look for personalized information, such as energy usage history. By including support information and a knowledge base you can dramatically reduce the number of calls to your call centre.
Communication. Using CRM information, it is possible to deliver targeted and personalized notifications about outages and technician visits. Also, this information can also be used to deliver compliant marketing and sales messages.
Marketing and sales automation. Utilities can use detailed segmentation rules to deliver targeted communication across multiple digital channels and then leverage sales automation features to quickly and effectively execute on sales, cross-selling and upselling initiatives.
Support. CRM is the ultimate tool for customer support. It acts as a single source of information about your customers, including historical information and current obligations. Using a CRM solution, your CRM team can streamline the delivery of support services across multiple channels.
A CRM solution is a foundational technology for any company looking to digital transformation to succeed in a world where supply and customers are increasingly fragmented. BE-terna offers Energy CRM that’s designed specifically for the utility and energy industry. It is built on Microsoft Dynamics CRM to deliver industry-standard capabilities, while BE-terna's technology and business-specific knowledge ensures the solution fully fits your specific demands.