For much of their history, utilities haven’t had to pay too much attention to customer experience (CX). The focus in many areas, has tended to be on technologies that supported infrastructure and reduced operational costs.
But today’s customer expects much more. Thanks to their interactions with service providers in other industries, people expect their utilities to provide the same seamless experience they encounter elsewhere.
When it comes to providing that kind of experience, the best place to start is with customer communications.
Digital innovation and customer expectations
While customers may continue to have a limited choice when it comes to utilities, the sector still faces disruption from innovative new players. It’s become increasingly affordable, for example, for homeowners to switch from grid-based electricity to using solar panels to take care of most of their power needs.
If utilities are to avoid full-scale disruption, they can no longer rely on providing a reasonable service at a reasonable price.
They need to focus on creating a better customer experience.
In fact, focusing on customer experience could see utilities thrive in even the most disruptive environment. A 2017 CapGemini study revealed that as many as 73% of respondents said they would pay for better customer service from their utility provider.
Learn from the retailers
If utilities are to provide an improved experience, turning to the retail sector for ideas on delivering a superior CX is a good idea.
Retailers tend to understand that their customers have a few key expectations, including:
• Cross-channel personalized experiences
• Seamless, consistent and connected journeys
• Data accuracy, protection and privacy
• Interaction where, when and how they want
• Value exchanges above and beyond
• Real-time interactions and responses
If utilities can actively meet and exceed those expectations, they’ll build lasting customer relationships that engender loyalty and maximize value.
To maximize the value of a customer, utilities need to understand what their customers really want and map their strategy to provide just that.
Digital communication is vital
Ultimately, the best place to make an impact in CX is in digital customer communication.
According to a 2016 study by Market Strategies, 54% of residential customers preferred digital communication over any other form of communication.
Utilities can start by using the communications already sent to customers and include valuable data and insights that are personalized to the customer’s activity.
These customizations are what improve the CX for customers and build the foundations for trust and a better relationship. Using data effectively and helping the customer better understand usage will not only improve the CX, but increase engagement too.
Customers expect to engage digitally with their utility provider and in a manner that is meaningful to their experience.
Betting on billing
That said, it may not be possible for utilities to overhaul all of their digital communications at once. Some areas may take longer than others to get right.
When customers have a bad experience, they typically engage less, take longer to pay bills and ignore payment reminders and past due notices. Taking this into consideration, a good start in improving the CX would be the bill-to-payment communications.
The bill-to-payment journey needs to be streamlined to remove the friction points that cause a fractured customer experience, for example where a bill is sent electronically but an overdue payment notice is sent by mail. Furthermore, tone, branding and general approach should be consistent across communications.
Streamlining and improving this experience for customers will increase engagement and ultimately improve cash flow.
Big business benefits
It’s time for utilities to embrace a seamless, digitally transformed customer experience and improve the communications that are sent to clients as this is what will retain and maintain long term client relationships.
About the Author
Mia Papanicoloau is COO at Striata. Mia heads up the North, Central and South American operations, providing strategy and direction for both internal teams and clients alike.
Striata provides strategy, software and professional services that enable digital communication across multiple channels and devices.
Mia Papanicolaou is a regular speaker on digital customer communication and improving the customer experience.
She started her career in South Africa in the media sector before moving to the electronic messaging space, where she served as business director for email marketing eMessageX. She joined Striata in 2006 as Head of Email Marketing. Mia moved to the UK as Head of Operations in 2010, whereafter she moved to the US in 2013 to take up the post of General Manager of the US region, prior to her appointment as COO.