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How Utilities Can Win Digital Relevance

When it comes to delivering valuable digital customer experiences, utilities are among the worst-performing industry groups, according to market analysts J.D. Power. We know customers love using smartphones and laptops for banking, shopping, managing travel plans, and more —yet for one-third of energy consumers, interacting with their provider’s digital channels feels like a trip back to the dark ages.

Utilities seem to struggle particularly with cross-channel communication, scoring just 345 on Centric Digital DIMENSIONSTM 1,000-point scale. Utilities’ poor standing can be traced to major gaps in social media, email and messaging.

So why does digital engagement with customers matter?

For utilities, customer acquisition cost is high. Retention cost is maybe a third of that—and the opportunity costs of customer loss can be huge. Keeping customers happy so they stick around is vital.

Program engagement is difficult when customers’ only interaction with the utility is a monthly bill. But with self-service, 24/7 channels allowing conversations when and where people want them—via mobile app, social media, chat, text and web—customer participation and loyalty rise measurably.

Today’s consumers expect personalized interactions. By collecting and analyzing data from each click of every digital interaction, utilities can learn about customer preferences and tailor products and discounts accordingly—offering the right value at the perfect time, through the best channel.

More and more consumers want to engage with and manage their own energy consumption. If they can do this using digital engagement tools, they’re more likely to net the energy savings utilities need to meet efficiency mandates in a cost-effective way.

Digital engagement can also help utilities smooth peak loads and design new rate structures—tangible business benefits beyond simply having “happy customers.”

How can utilities improve their digital presence?

Utilities may partner with experienced digital services providers to deliver personalized, multi-channel experiences. But buying attractive off-the-shelf products without a clear strategy can end in costly disaster. It pays to do some careful thinking before jumping in. These steps will set your utility on the right path.

  1. Find out what other utilities are doing right in the digital space. Utilities and private sector vendors mine data from smart meters, thermostats and connected appliances. They use digital channels to provide customers with personalized and actionable ways to reduce consumption. One app allows utilities to run demand response (DR) programs for opted-in consumers. During peak load periods, the utility can adjust the consumer’s smart thermostat by 1–2 degrees.
  2. Understand how customers currently interact with your utility company. Determine how well your digital touchpoints meet customer expectations. D. Power analyzed customer perceptions of 67 utility companies’ digital presence to identify best practices and provide insight on how to improve customer experience. They measured five factors—navigation, appearance, range of services, clarity of information and availability of key information—and found the ability to clearly and easily view usage information to be the top driver of a positive digital experience.
  3. Optimize ROI by investing in channels with the greatest impact on customer satisfaction. Take an inventory of key utility–customer interactions where you could move the needle on customer satisfaction, such as ‘welcome’ messaging, notifications of outages or extreme weather, finding account information and so on. For each moment, consider what communication channel will create the best customer experience, to help your brand become the customer’s trusted energy advisor. For example, a customer looking for account information might prefer a web portal optimized for speed and ease of use. When a monthly bill is spiking, a text alert empowers the customer to take action quickly. During an outage, a mobile app can give the customer detailed updates about when power will be restored. The other key uses for an app are for customers to learn about efficient energy use, remotely control thermostats and pay bills. Crucially, the app must be super easy to use and provide great value. It should also have a “cool factor” as icing on the engagement cake.

Digital engagement is a win–win for utilities and their customers, because it provides customers the service they expect at every touch-point, and offers utilities quantifiable metrics to help adapt their business model in response to customers’ evolving needs.

For more information about how Franklin Energy can boost your utility's customer satisfaction, learn more about our digital capabilities below.

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References

Utilities Lag Other Industries in Digital Experience, but Standouts are Emerging, J.D. Power Finds, J.D. Powerhttp://www.jdpower.com/press-releases/jd-power-2018-utility-digital-experience-study

New Energy Consumer 2017, Accenture: https://www.accenture.com/us-en/insight-utilities-new-energy-consumer-2017

2018 Utility Digital Experience Study brochure, J.D. Power: http://d1arsn5g9mfrlq.cloudfront.net/sites/default/files/utilitydigitalexperiencestudy_brochure_18.pdf

What do utility customers want? There's an app for that, Utility Divehttps://www.utilitydive.com/news/what-do-utility-customers-want-theres-an-app-for-that/408797

Utility customer engagement goes digital, Utility divehttps://www.utilitydive.com/news/utility-customer-engagement-goes-digital/444149

Beyond the hype: What is the value of customer satisfaction to a regulated utility? PwC: www.pwc.com/us/en/power-and-utilities/publications/assets/pwc-regulated-utility-customer-satisfaction.pdf

How New Digital Customer Service Metrics Could Boost Utility Earnings, Greentech Media: www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/how-new-digital-customer-service-metrics-boost-utility-earnings#gs.ejj3=94

Enhancing the Utility Customer Experience: A Digital Framework, Cognizant:www.cognizant.com/whitepapers/enhancing-the-utility-customer-experience-a-digital-framework-codex3164.pdf

Mark Newton
Written by Mark Newton

Senior Director of Sales
With extensive industry experience and a passion for innovation, Mark Newton is a proven sales leader. He creates strong relationships with existing and perspective utility clients to find unique solutions for their needs. Mark leads the development of new customer engagement solutions, develops new software opportunities, and provides valuable insights for business development strategies. He holds a bachelor’s degree in marketing from Miami University.

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