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How Utilities Can Break Through the Barriers to Customer-Centric Business

With so many moving parts, companies are scrambling to align technology, vision and talent to translate data into real-time insight, providing one cohesive customer-centric experience. A recent Harvard Business Review Analytic Services Report quotes Forrester analyst Brandon Purcell as saying, “Very few companies have the ability to pull the data together for a holistic source of customer truth.”

The problem is that analytic tools are not congruent with real, practical day-to-day usage. “More often than not, the analytics team that does the modeling isn’t working hand-in-hand with the functional teams that will use the model,” Purcell explains.

Organizational silos like these are among the biggest barriers to achieving what the report calls “real-time customer experience maturity.”

What‘s really at stake is an organization’s ability—and willingness—to deliver an optimal customer experience.  It requires staying several steps ahead of customers, anticipating their needs in advance. Customers want consistently frictionless and transparent online transactions.

Optimize customer interactions
Utilities have very little time to get it right, as customers interactions are limited. According to a 2016 Accenture survey, customers spend an average of 8 to 12 minutes per year engaged with their regulated utilities. Those minutes are taken up by a dozen or so typical utility customerhandshake interactions such as rate changes, bills, outages and extreme weather. These are the rare moments when the customer is truly interested in engaging with their utility. It’s the low-hanging fruit of customer relations—a chance for the utility to get its foot in the door, by defining the right communication channel for each type of interaction.

As utilities begin considering the customer in real time, a mobile app becomes a more urgent item on the to-do list. While texts, emails and websites are part of the essential framework for connecting with a customer online, a mobile app has the edge in terms of timeliness, particularly during events like outages.

Of course, a mobile app is another order of complexity: It has the huge task of maintaining many useful tools—connecting billing, outage management and marketing. But the potential for growth is incentivizing. According to Accenture’s 2017 New Energy Consumer report, “Only 27 percent of energy consumers are active digital users.” That means there’s 73 percent left to be recruited and engaged.

Use incentives to drive buy-in
To encourage customer participation, some utilities are getting creative. Many are collaborating with branded engagement platforms to drive buy-in through rebates, and thus meet efficiency objectives in the process. These collaborations have shown that the higher the rebate for purchases of utility-marketed product and services that contribute to demand response and efficiency objectives, the higher the conversion rate.

According to an article in Utility Dive, “recent offers by New York utilities verified that ‘there is a direct correlation to the size of the rebate and the conversion rate.’” This does make sense, because after all, people are typically inclined to save their money on recurring expenses like utilities whenever possible.

Knowing these things about one’s customers provides deep insights into actionable data. This creates the need for a robust analytics platform capable of creating real-time solutions.

Know thy customer
The best way to dissolving barriers to a customer-focused approach is to look at the issues from their point of view. Utilities are now much more than the functional exchange of energy for man-on-computermoney. This new frontier now raises questions, as noted by the Utility Analytics Institute: “How will we develop deeper customer insights enabling the launch of new services and products for customers? For the first time, we’re going to really need to know our customers intimately.”

The Harvard Business Review report says the same thing, noting “Companies that seek to embrace real-time customer analytics and interactions need to view things from the outside in, starting with customers and the problems they want to solve.” The bottom line is this: once a utility shifts its mindset to thinking more like its customers, they’ve already taken the first step to building deep, lasting customer relationships.

To discover how Franklin Energy can boost your utility’s customer engagement, schedule a demo for NGAGE Customer!



Dan Tarrence
Written by Dan Tarrence

Executive Vice President
Dan Tarrence was recognized in 2017 as Industry Leader of the Year by AESP for his contributions to the energy efficiency industry and leadership over the past 25+ years. He has directed Franklin Energy’s solution development, proposal process and pricing methodology for the past decade and currently manages strategic initiatives to advance our grid optimization services for utility clients across the country and into Canada. Dan is currently co-chair of the Policy Committee for the Midwest Energy Research Consortium and previously served for five years as chair of the Implementation Topic Committee for the Association of Energy Services Professionals (AESP). He lends his thought leadership at numerous industry events each year. Dan has a MBA from Arizona State University.


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