Utilities Delivered On Digital Innovation, But Communication Essential To Realize Benefits
Digital innovation in utilities was an essential response to new pressures brought about by COVID-19. As a highly regulated industry providing essential services, there was no grace period for utilities to carefully plan their interventions. Consumers needed power, water and gas, and utilities had to provide it, no matter the other challenges they were dealing with.
And the sector came through with many ways to drive digital innovation in utilities. But realizing the full benefit of these interventions requires the support of relevant and appropriate communication to customers.
Take energy-saving initiatives as an example. It benefits both utilities and consumers to manage consumption, and many utilities already had programs running to help customers improve energy efficiency in their homes. These programs involved a house visit from a utility worker to walk through the home and identify ways to save energy.
With physical visits not possible due to COVID-19 restrictions, some utilities began providing the option of using web conferences or video calls to conduct a virtual walkthrough to identify potential saving opportunities. This innovative response was a great way to continue to provide this service, however, neither party would realize the benefit if the consumer was not made aware of this as an option.
Communication Plays An Essential Role In The Success Of Digital Innovation In Utilities
Communication about the digital innovations provided by utilities is essential, as customers need to know how to ease their own pressures by using digital tools provided by the utility.
Another example is more subtle, and it has to do with easing the general anxiety brought about by COVID-19. Consumers are understandably concerned about how utilities would continue to keep critical infrastructure operational while under lockdown. Especially when considering essential services such as hospitals and public resources are under pressure due to an increase in citizens needing assistance.
To combat these concerns, utilities need to communicate their planned initiatives for maintaining the resiliency of critical infrastructure and ensuring business continuity. Without this essential information, consumer stress levels just continue to grow.
In addition to the above, many households have lost part or all of their income, and are increasingly anxious about their ability to keep paying their utility bills. The response from utilities, and in some cases government, is to introduce payment relief programs and to pause collection notices.
These programs bring essential relief to affected households, but only if the person responsible for paying the bills is aware of their options.
What utilities can do to ensure adequate communication around digital innovation initiatives
Utilities should embrace the power of digital communication. Digital channels, such as email and text, offer speed, flexibility and a range of applications.
For content-rich communications, it makes sense to use the full capabilities of digital communication to provide information in a way that is interactive, dynamic and engaging for the customer. This type of communication is best suited to email or ePresentment and can be applied to statements, bills and other content-rich documentation.
Urgent notifications, such as outage notices or over-limit warnings, should be sent as short text messages to ensure they are received and read as fast as possible. For example, providing a text alert when there is excessively high usage is valuable to the customer. It also benefits the utility, as an unexpectedly high bill can double the odds that a customer switches energy providers.
Customers appreciate receiving useful and timely information, especially about digital innovations that will benefit them. On the flip side, utilities that embrace innovations deserve the recognition and to realize the full advantages that digital innovation brings. TALK TO A UTILITIES EXPERT