The utility industry continues to lag behind other sectors in terms of offering enhanced digital experience to customers. Though not prevalent, online channels were found to provide ~80 percent issue resolution in the first attempt. I believe this is the beginning of the mammoth shift for utilities even as their customers want an experience on par with what retail and travel industries offer.
However, creating strong emotional experiences and nurturing deeper, higher-quality relationships with customers is easier said than done. For instance, the U.K. utilities sector scored 74 / 100 on the 2018 UK Customer Satisfaction Index, which is well below the average of 78 (among all sectors). New entrants are increasingly eating into the market share of the Big Six in the U.K. While the price difference remains relatively flat, energy suppliers are investing in improving their customer experience and brand image to differentiate themselves.
Meanwhile, the concept of green energy and living off-grid is catching on. By 2021, in Australia and neighboring countries, off-grid energy is expected to reach cost and performance parity with grid-delivered energy. By 2039, in the U.S. northeast region, the cost of generating and storing energy locally will be less than transporting energy. Efforts are on in various regions to switch to 100 percent renewable energy even as the increasing popularity of the tiny-house movement is threatening widescale grid defection.
New-age utility customers are generating their own electricity and demanding better engagements from suppliers. Such developments are transforming them into prosumers (producers + consumers). By enhancing customer experience through digital channels, utilities can build stronger relationships with prosumers – become proactive energy-efficient advisors rather than be reactive energy suppliers.
According to EY, over 66 percent of utility retailers see quality of customer service as a way to differentiate from the competition. Furthermore, more than 50 percent of European utility providers have already invested in artificial intelligence agents while 81 percent are either planning to do so or will continue to invest over the next two years.
Consumers expect their utility providers to offer proactive and personalized communication. They want to be informed about efficiency programs and given suggestions to reduce their usage. To me, the start of a digital transformation journey in customer service is underpinned by various factors.
Defining, identifying and categorizing customer groups by parameters such as cohorts, preferences, special needs and account history, is the first step towards designing a personalized, relevant and productive customer interaction framework. Contact center analytics such as speech and text analytics can then further enable personalization.
By defining the elements of the experience (such as emotions, values and actions) at each stage of the customer journey, utilities can decide when and where the interventions are required, and measure the outcome with impactful metrics. For example, in the U.K., one of the biggest gaps in the utility customer experience is trust. In such a context, transparency has to be one of the key success factors for customer interactions. Unless the experience is clearly defined, utilities will end up making efforts in the wrong direction.
Transforming the Experience
Addressing isolated aspects of the interactions lead to marginal benefits. An actual transformation will need to begin with defining an omni-channel strategy with the right combination of platforms across the customer journey. Empowering contact center agents with real-time insights and investing in upgrading their skills to handle more complex interactions is crucial. The shift from reactive problem-solving to proactively reaching out to customers in areas such as credit counseling based on the customers’ risk assessment will be a key element of this journey.
The digital landscape has changed the way customers think. It’s imperative for utilities to understand this and evolve accordingly to cater to a digitally savvy consumer base.