Customer engagement is a key differentiator of successful utility companies. A study on the
digital experience of utilities found that the industry in general lagged behind other sectors in
digital experience1. However, utility companies that are focusing on customer engagement are
creating economic gains for both the customer and business. Creating a superior customer
experience can significantly increase revenue and decrease cost-to-serve.
While the utility industry has woken up to the importance of customer engagement, their
efforts have borne mixed results. Many utilities have struggled to move fast enough and adopt
new digital tools and techniques.
What Has Worked for Other Industries?
Utility companies have not been able to fully
realize the business value that other sectors
have achieved from their customer
engagement models. Hence, it is important for
utilities to draw best practices and trends from
other industries. In retail, customer experience
has overtaken price and product as the key
differentiator. Artificial Intelligence (AI)-powered
conversational bots are gaining traction.
In healthcare, integrated automation solutions
are gaining momentum. These solutions
integrate the systems and application in one
console, building a unified knowledge base and
delivering meaningful insights in real time.
Across the telecom sector, there is a changing
dynamic in channel usage and social media is
becoming a preferred channel. Overall, digital
interaction is emerging as the default option.
What Will Work for Utility Companies?
While learning from best practices is essential,
it is equally crucial for utility companies to
define their unique requirement, outcomes and
context in which the transformation has to be
implemented. We recommend that the
leadership team of every utility company ideate
on the following questions before adopting a
new customer engagement model.
1. How is the brand perceived by customers?
Brand perception is deeply connected to the
experience of existing customers and how they
talk about the brand to others. A deep dive into
this question will reveal insights on areas such
as gaps in experience across the customer
journey and communication channels with the
customer. Further, the leadership should also
define how they want to be perceived by
customers in the future.
2. What will create value for customers?
Customer engagement can be enhanced
through faster response time, personalization,
omni-channel experience, self-service through
mobile and web, and AI-powered
conversational bots and analytics. However,
building empathy for customers and defining
value as they see it, should come before
deciding on the kind of tools and processes
that work best.
3. What business outcomes will be driven through the customer engagement model?
Customer engagement is not a one-time
transformation, but an ongoing effort. To
sustain the transformation, the linkage
between engagement and business outcomes
must be clearly defined and communicated to
all stakeholders. Success metrics range across
cost leadership, better process efficiency,
higher customer retention and reduced
Key Elements of a New Customer Engagement Model
Each utility company must design a customer
engagement model that works best for it.
However, there are four elements that are
crucial for any model:
1. Focus on customer journey
Customer engagement must focus on the
journey that impacts the customer experience,
and not merely individual touchpoints. For
example, most of the utilities score poorly on
the billing and payment journeys and is one of
the major contributors to customer calls. It is
possible that certain touchpoints across web,
call center and field services may be functioning
well in itself. However, the entire experience
may not be pleasant. Hence, the model should
address the experience as a whole.
2. Digital-first approach
Technology is ripe for enabling a digitally driven
customer experience, ranging from Robotic
Process Automation (RPA) to intelligent tools
such as chatbots and self-service channels.
Automation of tasks enables faster resolution to
customers and creates bandwidth for agents to
focus on complex issues. Self-service and
intelligent tools enable customers to manage
their queries while multi-tasking.
The benefits of a digital-first approach still
remain largely untapped in the utilities
industry. A study of utilities executives2 found
that 39 percent of them understood the risks and opportunities of digital trends and
only 28 percent said that their companies
were working to embed digital technology.
This is an opportunity for early movers to
create a competitive edge. Studies on
customer satisfaction in the utilities industry
show that top players are performing well in
3. Creating omni-channel experience
A classic mistake across industries is to confuse
multi-channel with omni-channel experience.
For example, it is often observed that adding a
self-service channel may in fact lead to increase
in customer calls and in the time taken for the
customer to get a resolution. This typically
happens because the channels have been not
been integrated with the customer journey.
The key success factor of an omni-channel
experience is its seamlessness.
4. Analytics-driven processes
Estimates suggest that advanced analytics can
boost the profitability of utilities by 5 to 10
percent,4 along with creating a positive impact
on customer satisfaction, and health and safety of
employees. Many utility companies struggle with
deploying analytics as a strategic transformation
as opposed to a piece-meal intervention.
Transformation of the customer engagement
model provides a great opportunity to enable
analytics-driven processes which integrate data
seamlessly across processes and channels to
generate real-time insights and informed
decision-making. Contact center analytics can
offer quick wins in terms of improving Average
Handle Time (AHT) and sales conversion, and
reducing call volume.
Poor customer experience has long been the
status-quo in the utilities industry. The ability
and willingness to change that status-quo will
decide who will survive and thrive in the new