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Insight

How can utilities deliver a high-quality customer experience that leads to profitability?

Unlike many other industries, utilities have a unique advantage in that they are invited into people’s homes every day. The companies that understand this opportunity are not just there to deliver electrons; they are there to connect with customers. 

Utilities are even measured on the strength of these connections—and the connections are directly tied to profitability. For instance, the J.D. Power score looks at a utility’s customer engagement: Is information easy to access, is the website intuitive, can customers quickly get answers? J.D. Power also looks at fair rates, easy-to-use payment options and excellent customer service.A low score will impact the regulator’s view of rate cases.

So how can utilities keep their own lights on? By providing a customer experience that can satisfy the needs and surpassing the expectations of businesses and residents.

Author

John Pendleton

Senior Director Technology

Building stronger connections

Utilities can deliver a high-quality customer experience that leads to profitability by getting to know the customer based on data, building a platform through which to integrate and act on the insights, and offering the exact products and services they need at the right time. 

Alexa, why is my bill so high?

The customer is the meter for satisfaction, so utilities must work hard to give them what they want. Understanding your customer first and foremost means understanding who they are by the data you collect on them. Each individual, family or business will look quite different. For instance, a young renter who just joined the workforce will have needs that differ from a family moving into a new home in the suburbs. 

The renter might find it valuable if the utility offers a way to split the bill among roommates, whereas the family may be looking for ways to cut costs by reducing usage when they are outside of the home. 

Be relevant by offering the right services and products through the right touchpoints and channels at the right time. Data will reveal customer preferences, such as do they prefer to receive information via email or text message? Can they ask Alexa why their bill is so high? Is the utility equipped with capabilities to proactively remind a customer, for instance, “It’s going to be hot. Your bill was high this time last year. Here’s how you can lower your usage.”?

images of families shopping online and opening boxes

Develop the platform

Data is coming from a variety of sources—internal and external third parties—so utilities need a platform to bring in insights from multiple areas and share them across the business. It’s not just about acting on customer touchpoints. As utilities create more products and services, these have to be tied to customer touchpoints and coordinated so that interactions are meaningful. For instance, a customer with a solar panel would have a different conversation and experience a different upsell with Alexa than a person without solar.

A platform could allow the utility to make a chat service available to call center agents or on the utilities’ website, making it easier to share valuable information with customers. Customers themselves could engage the chat service for answers to questions about their bill or to learn about new products and services. The chat service could “talk back” and tell a customer the common times where their usage is high or suggest new equipment to lower usage. 

Give customers exactly what they need

Understanding the customer and his or her wants and needs is only part of the battle. Utilities must proactively respond with solutions that solve challenges for customers or that make their lives easier. People that are qualified for specific programs, such as a digital thermostat, home audit, solar and more should be told that these services are available. According to J.D. Power, awareness of and utilization of utility products and services increases overall customer satisfaction by 70 index points (on a 1,000-point scale).1

Consider the family looking to save money on their bill. When financially stressed people cannot get the help they need when they need it, a utilities bad debt number rises. Therefore, boost customer satisfaction by increasing awareness of programs and shortcuts to saving money. If the day is going to be hot, send a reminder to customers to adjust the thermostat. Customers that are eligible for partial payments could be prompted to do that via a push notification. A chatbot should be able to tell someone exactly how much they would save on an LED—the bot should also be able to order it for the customer.

woman on her tablet adjusting her thermostat
Boost customer satisfaction by increasing awareness of programs and shortcuts to saving money

Know who is behind the meter

There is a family or business with unique goals and challenges behind every meter. Successful, forward-thinking utilities will use customer-friendly technology to connect with customers on their terms—allow them to receive informative text alerts, manage their usage and billing online or interact with customer support digitally. For example, the Ontario Energy Board piloted a platform to better understand their customers and empower them to lower their bills and help the environment.

Sources:

  1. J.D. Power; 2019 Utility Industry Outlook;
    https://www.jdpower.com/sites/default/files/2019_utilities_outlook.pdf
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John Pendleton
John Pendleton
Senior Director Technology