Today's consumers are saturated with service and engagement experiences rich in technology that allows them a greater breadth of self‑service, social connectedness and personalized options. A recent research report1 we conducted with energy publishing company PennEnergy points to a growing base of utility customers looking for a more proactive role in their energy usage, easier access to services and more personalized and self‑directed engagement through advanced technologies.
According to the survey, the home energy management (HEM) system market will experience strong growth through 2023 as more tech‑loving millennials become heads of households. More than half of respondents (53.8%) believe millennials will be a priority customer demographic for utility customer service and engagement through the next two years.
Key findings of our survey include:
Utility customers have embraced digital interaction. Respondents reported that almost 74% of their customers are enrolled in some kind of personalized alert service and 27.6% stated that more than half of their customers receive paperless billing (see Figure 1).
But they tend to hold back on advanced technologies. Most respondents reported they do not leverage tools such as wearables and video streaming for enhanced customer service.
Respondents view tablets and high‑speed Internet as critical to their next‑gen customer experience investments
Roughly 46% of respondents affirmed their providers' channels were extremely varied, yet only 7.1% said all available channels provided seamless continuity across processes. The lack of omnichannel maturity was attributed to a mix of internal and external barriers.
Nearly 50% of respondents are utilizing customer service analytics. But the results indicate there is still some uncertainty when it comes to any definitive use of big data and analytics for customer engagement and service.
Many utilities view social media presence as a "check‑off " item rather than a full resource for implementing advanced engagement and services. Not surprisingly, most utilities have a social strategy focused on addressing the needs of millennials, while a vast majority also wanted to focus on green issues/initiatives to satisfy this population.
Recommendations for Utilities to Increase Engagement
Go digital. Utilities have already achieved higher efficiencies by focusing on core process automation, such as paperless billing, alerts, warning, etc. Now is the time to put in place a digital transformation strategy that, for example, shifts customer service from reactive to proactive mode. Technologies needed for this transition include video streaming, wearables, augmented reality, cognitive computing and the like.
Formalize a strategy for big data and analytics. Sophisticated capabilities are readily accessible and the benefits they provide to customer service agents and customers far outweigh the costs.
Connect with millennials socially. Millennials are a dominant demographic segment and are characterized by their high adoption of technology for daily routines. The survey shows utilities with dedicated social teams had more services on social channels, indicating a better ability to connect with customers.
Build channel intelligence and let that intelligence drive omnichannel efforts. Survey results show that challenges and drivers are varied, with no single dominant driver/challenge. Aligning those with a single focus – like channel intelligence – will streamline efforts.
Traditionally, utilities have been slower to adopt new technologies and approaches as they struggle to meet bottom‑line goals while helping customers consume less energy, to the detriment of their toplines. In addition, uncertainties in the current regulatory landscape and the costs involved to support advanced processes add up to a general reluctance for utilities to move forward apace.
However, in any business landscape, stagnation can often prove more detrimental than well‑executed risk in terms of success and customer buy‑in. Today, as a result of deregulation, utilities may no longer be privileged with a mostly captive consumer base and are challenged with much less passive consumers and regulators. The situation presents an important question: Are utilities truly better served by not firmly committing to implementing advanced processes for an enhanced customer experience?
Today's current market climate suggests the answer is no, as utilities risk losing their consumer base to a growing number of alternatives. Moreover, companies from peripheral spaces are emerging to fill the tech gap in providing digital customer service to customers. The bottom line: If utilities do not make an effort to be proactive in meeting customer needs, someone else will.
1 More than 200 energy industry executives participated in the survey, of which nearly 70% were located in North America. Nearly one‑third of respondents held the title of "engineer" and 10% held C‑level positions, including executive manager. Nearly half work at utilities that serve under 100,000 customers.