How utilities are plugging into new ways engage customers

It’s the era of the empowered consumer. Today’s customers have more choices than ever before. They have greater visibility into pricing and options. It’s easier to compare providers and their offerings. The cost and difficulty of switching providers are lower than ever. And unhappy customers can make their voices heard instantly via social channels—with immediate implications for a provider’s brand and market reputation.

That may sound like a description of the modern retail industry, but it’s just as applicable to the utility sector. Historically, utilities have only interacted directly with customers to initiate or cancel service, via the billing cycle, or when something goes wrong. For decades, many markets had only one provider. Understanding the customer and their needs wasn’t a priority. As long as the customer paid on time, all was well.

Things have changed. In a deregulated market, utility customers have choices. In an environment with distributed energy resources (DER) providers, consumers can opt for a mix of suppliers. With rooftop solar, customers are even providers themselves—which rewrites the rules for the utility-customer relationship. Utilities can’t afford a take-it-or-leave-it approach to business.

Delivering richer, multi-channel experiences

So how can utilities—both established players and industry newcomers—continue to thrive in this new customer-centric world? The first step is to build customer intimacy by taking a cue from the retail industry and providing options for customer self-service and richer digital experiences. Today’s customers expect innovative, highly personalized service across channels. Second, utilities must focus on understanding customer needs and preferences. They need to collect data and generate the insights to anticipate changing wants and needs and make the transition from commodity vendor to energy advisor.

A new approach to field service

The traditional field service model is also due for an overhaul.  In addition to timely response, improving customer satisfaction is now a key focus. That’s why utilities are turning to innovations such as AI-powered scheduling, planning, and dispatch to create the smoothest possible service experience and deliver proactive communication. They’re also drawing on real-time analytics and reports, mobile tools, automated invoicing, and flexible workforce management to deliver richer, personalized service. And the role of the field technician is expanding to include the promotion of add-on and complementary services that a customer might find compelling.

Capitalizing on billing and customer service

Utilities can also extend and enhance their interactions with customers via the tried-and-true channels of billing and customer service. Both provide opportunities to engage with customers in real-time exchanges and collect the type of feedback that’s critical to ongoing personalization. Companies can also use their billing media as communications channels to keep customers up to date on the latest services—while providing feedback on energy usage patterns and history.

Expanding the range of offerings

What can utilities do with the wealth of data they collect on customers? In addition to optimizing service, they can create new offerings that provide new sources of revenue. As utilities deregulate and their markets become more competitive, margins tend to shrink. Reduced reliance on large-scale, carbon-driven generation opens the door to new opportunities with renewable sources. Utilities can fill the revenue gaps by expanding beyond their core competencies of power generation and delivery. For example, they may opt to sell or lease solar panels and offer warranty and maintenance packages for rooftop solar installations. They may also choose to offer relocation support services that bundle utility, cable, telephony, and other activation services for customers who are changing addresses. The bottom line is that greater customer intimacy delivers a wealth of insight on customer needs—while providing the ability to personalize offers based on the individual customer’s history and preferences.

Today’s utilities need to do more than connect customers with power, water, and communications. They also need to deliver the experiences that the modern, empowered consumers expect. And they can’t do that without creating and capitalizing on a data-driven platform for customer intimacy. That means that utilities need to be as adept at data collection and analysis as they are at keeping the lights on, the water flowing, and the lines of communication open.

Want to learn more about new ways utilities are engaging customers?  You can learn more here.

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