The Utility Customer Experience Has Changed
While the utilities industry has undoubtedly been in a state of transformation over the past decade, the events of 2020 provided an unanticipated change to what customers need and want from their utility provider. This is especially true for utility-customer communication.
Due to fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic uncertainty, utilities companies had to find ways to interact with customers without being physically present. In addition, utility employees had to adapt to a virtual work environment in order to keep the energy providers running smoothly.
While massive jumps in unemployment meant utility customers were looking for financial relief from their power providers during a time when they could least afford to have their power turned off.
Add these roadblocks into an environment where customers now demand more digital engagement from their utilities, more of a role in the power generation market, as well as the influence of new technologies like smart meters and EVs, and the utility industry looks nothing like it did just a few decades ago.
In this new paradigm in the energy industry, customers are taking a leading role for the first time. Up until now, many customers have been accustomed to a single utility option in their service area and simply accepting whatever programs and services they were offering. However, the utility customer of 2021 is now demanding the type of personalized and modern experience they are accustomed to getting from their bank, an insurance company, and healthcare provider.
What does this mean for the forward-looking utility company?
The first step for the utility is to determine what their customers want, why these new types of services are important, and how they can best serve customers to fulfill those needs. And for a utility that has immense new responsibilities and considerations, the best solution for keeping customer communications on the leading edge, may just be partnering with experts who know how to unlock this treasure trove of opportunity.
Utility Customers in 2021: What Do They Want?
The customer base for utilities is getting younger, more technologically savvy, and more demanding of their providers. With this backdrop, utility customers in 2021 have different priorities and therefore new expectations in terms of what they want when it comes to information, services, and digital experiences.
Data-Driven, Personalized Digital Experience
Smartphones, smart appliances, and smart voice assistants pervade the average customer’s everyday life in 2021. The well-informed customer is already seeing vendors from online shopping to phone companies tap into the possibilities of these handy digital devices and tools. If their utility is not, then the level of customer satisfaction will surely drop.
Whether that means checking and paying bills via these tools, being able to view live energy usage data on their tablets or computers, or having the utility provide specific advice on programs or purchases they might make based on their specific home data, the possibilities really are only limited by the initiative and creativity of the utility. For utilities that are not yet providing these types of custom experiences for their customers, there are certain starting elements to address.
Notably, the data that is collected (whether existing data or new data that utilities want to start collecting) must be accurate and robust. Unreliable or spotty data can be worse than no data at all if it results in incorrect decisions. Further, data collection is not necessarily a situation where more is better, despite what an eager utility might think. If the data collected isn’t relevant to empowering the customer, it just creates extra noise, unnecessarily costs, and could see decision-makers paralyzed by too much information.
If data is collected accurately and in line with a well thought out strategy, customers will get the type of relevant communications that are customized to their wants and needs, which will empower them to make better energy and financial decisions, and overall boost their perception of their utility as a partner (rather than just another bill they have to pay)
Note: with all the data available to utilities by default, don’t let that shortfall happen to your organization.
Seamless Digital Communication Experience
The utility-customer relationship used to be a lot more streamlined and simpler. Customers would receive a monthly bill detailing their energy usage and charges, and then they would submit the payment. If there were questions or issues, they would call the customer service center to get in touch directly. Those options encompassed the entire customer experience.
Today, though, the ways in which a customer can get in touch with their utility have expanded: email, mobile apps, online web portals, customer service chats on utility websites, social media, and more. Considering the availability of all these digital channels, the utility customer in 2021 more than likely wants to pick and choose the most suitable channel and communication method to use, based on their specific requirements, for example:
- Amid potential service shutoffs due to unpaid bills, customers want the immediacy of a call center or live chat online.
- When scheduling services, a utility worker may want a written email they can refer back to for confirmation details when a site visit has been scheduled.
- And every other individual opportunity for connecting with customers may see different preferences, even different from customer to customer. For example 43% of Millennial customers prefer to contact customer service from their mobile device, while 40% of all customers prefer talking to a real human on the phone for more complex issues.
The most customer-friendly utilities will not only make it easy for customers to reach them through this myriad of strategies, but they must also ensure a seamless and uniform communication experience across the different channels. For example, if a customer schedules an appointment on the app, they want to log onto the web portal and see a record of it. If they paid their bill via phone, they want their mobile platform to reflect that. And not only should the content be consistent throughout the digital experience, but so too should the tone, design, and process for all communications.
Despite there being many different departments and voices within one utility, customers expect communication to be consistent across all customer journeys. As 2021 kicks off, seamless communication experiences are more important than ever.
Talk to a utilities customer communication expert
Matt Chester is an energy analyst in Orlando FL, by way of Washington DC. He studied engineering and science & technology policy at the University of Virginia before diving into the world of federal energy policy.
Today he runs Chester Energy and Policy LLC and publishes his blog at ChesterEnergyandPolicy.com in which he shares news, insights, and advice in the fields of energy policy and energy technology. You can also see Matt’s work on energycentral.com where he serves as a Community Manage with a utility industry focus.
Matt is writing a series of guest blogs for Doxim, focusing on paperless billing and digital communication in utilities.
For daily quick hits on energy and utility topics, you can follow him on Twitter at @ChesterEnergy.