Utility Customer Experience: Why Suppliers Need to Make it Effortless
The customer service game has changed for energy, gas and water companies. When customers contact them to pay a bill, check their usage levels or report an outage, they demand personalized, streamlined and convenient interactions. It’s no longer just about providing a reliable service to customers who have been loyal for decades – it’s about providing effortless utility customer experience.
Fred Johnson Sr. has been a Monolith Electric customer for 53 years. As long as his lights are on and his bills don’t go up (too often), he isn’t going anywhere. Besides, who has time to research alternate options?
Fred Johnson Jr. is from a different generation. He started off with Monolith Electric but after his second power outage, he switched to Eternal Electric. However, he noticed his bills creeping up and switched again to Everyman Electric. But when a power line fell in front of his house during a winter storm and Everyman couldn’t guarantee a same-day response due to the unexpected volume, Fred Jr. decided enough was enough and sat down to find a new service provider. After all, who wants to do business with a company that can’t meet its customer’s needs?
It’s easier than ever for customers to switch providers
Customer churn is a fact of life for every business in every industry, including the utilities sector. No longer dominated by monopolies, utilities have largely become commoditized, with very few competitive advantages to differentiate themselves in the marketplace.
Customers are also more aware of the choices available to them and are fully capable of using this to their advantage. Price comparison websites and deal-related search engines enable customers to shop around for better prices and service packages. And with disruptors entering the market – not to mention Accenture reporting that 77% of consumers are no longer loyal to any particular brand – the more established utility companies must work harder than ever to retain their customer bases.
Utilities must reduce customer effort
Utilities are increasingly realizing the need to up their game by recognizing any shortcomings in customer experience and taking corrective action before people churn. One key opportunity for improvement is reducing customer effort. Research has shown that 96% of those who go through a high-effort interaction become more disloyal compared to just 9% who have an effortless experience. By identifying inefficiencies that cause high customer effort, utilities can make the necessary improvements to enhance processes, provide effortless customer experience and boost loyalty.
The opportunity is massive. The 2019 Cogent Reports Utility Trusted Brand & Customer Engagement™: Residential study states that 94% of a utility customer’s satisfaction score is based on the effort exerted when interacting with the company. However, the average Customer Effort index Score for the utility industry leaves room for improvement: it’s only 730 out of 1,000. Focusing on improving customer experience by making it as easy as possible for the consumer can be a real win-win for the utility and there are a number of ways to go about it.
Establish trust and Communication
Positive relationships are built on good communication and trust. Be active on the communication channels that your customers frequent, including local forums and social media. Implement a notification system to alert customers to outages or to provide other critical information. Texting, messaging, and robocall systems are all good options for ensuring that customers are well informed.
Create efficient processes
Make sure all systems are go before rolling them out to customers. That means carrying out full QA and ensuring that reps are clear about eligibility for promotions. Systems should be in place for as many customer journeys as possible, from paying bills to upgrading services.
Implement smart technologies
Research the technological tools that can make a significant impact, including intent prediction, emotion analytics, and predictive personalization. For example, a dedicated app or platform incorporating these technologies can help customers track their usage and deliver personalized recommendations for lowering their bills.
Utilize Visual Assistance
Visual Assistance allows a utility company’s customer service agent to view a customer’s issue through their smartphone camera or by sharing their screen. This enables the agent to quickly diagnose the problem and visually guide the customer toward a solution as quickly as possible. For example, a customer calls in to report an error message on their new smart meter. There are multiple steps needed to resolve the error and reset the meter. Instead of describing the steps to the customer, the agent asks them to show the meter with their smartphone camera. The agent can then clearly see that the settings are incorrect and walk the customer through the required updates using Augmented Reality annotations to point out the necessary actions.
For more background and information about the fundamental transformation facing the utilities industry today, read a new eBook on the topic called Providing Effortless Experience to the Empowered Utility Customer. The resource describes the types of high-effort interactions that utility companies should focus on improving and explores the massive opportunity they have to enhance processes, provide effortless customer experience and gain loyal customers.