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Why Utilities Need to Disrupt Themselves

One of the biggest challenges facing utilities is how to move forward with next-gen, user-friendly tech that creates an atmosphere of transparency, engagement and maybe even an element of humor. How does a traditionally opaque and conservative industry develop deeper, more transparent customer relations?

Customers have come to expect the utility equivalent of the latest banking and credit card digital apps and other mainstream consumer technologies—and have generally been disappointed. According to the J. D. Power 2018 Utility Digital Experience Study, “Utilities are among the lowest-performing industry groups when it comes to delivering distinct digital customer experiences.” When compared to other industries like the retail sector, the utility industry scores 571 on a 1,000-point scale that rates digital proficiency. The retail sector, by contrast, scores 771.

Digital communication channels have quickly become the preferred means of customer communication. According to another J. D. Power report on Electric Utility Residential Customer Satisfaction, “customers who interacted with customer service via online, text, e-mail, chart, and social media channels all had higher levels of satisfaction than those who interacted via a live customer service representative.”

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To remedy the issue, many utilities are investing in technology that will allow them to text customer alerts, permit customers to manage their usage and billing, and let customers interact with customer support digitally.

For utilities to improve customer engagement—and retention—here are four secrets to digital success.

  1. Design thinking

Design thinking entails a problem-solving approach, which combines a user-centered perspective with rational and analytical research. The ultimate goal is to create innovative, out- of-the-box solutions. By focusing on the needs of users, and their pain points, design thinking seeks to come up with new, radical inventions that will make the user experience qualitatively better.

  1. Cloud computing

For any organization that wants to be able to innovate at speed and at scale, a cloud computing platform is a must. The cloud enables elastic and serverless computing on an unprecedented level. With the latest incarnation of the cloud, it is faster and cheaper than ever to build applications at dazzling levels of complexity.

  1. The Internet of Things

The Internet of Things (IoT) goes way beyond smart plugs, smart thermostats, smart shades and smart water meters. Those are just the low-hanging fruit. The real potential of this technology is harder to grasp. It’s less showy but more impactful. For example, tiny micro devices that are being used to record real time data to be deployed for analysis. The real benefits will be obtained when customers can seamlessly adjust their energy use to minimize their costs without any inconvenience.

  1. Streamlined applications

Intelligent applications are, according to an article on Medium, the “new wave of software, across mobile, web, cloud and embedded devices, that sits atop the intelligent cloud and the intelligent edge.” These applications combine cognitive services, machine learning and artificial intelligence to codify big data. Streamlined information is of the essence: Ideally, utility platforms, whether delivered via desktop or mobile, display usage, account information and payment information in a simplified format. A dashboard of easy-to-access data is the driver behind a positive website/app experience. Customer satisfaction increases exponentially in proportion to non-glitchy, responsive interfaces.

Innovating the customer experience means re-imagining the type of relationship that a customer can have with its utility. Improving digital relationships not only improves operational efficiency—it’s good for the customer, good for the environment and good for the bottom line.

Learn more about how we’re helping build the Utility of the Future with NGAGE.

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Paul Schueller
Written by Paul Schueller

Chief Executive Officer
With over three decades in the demand side management industry and two successful consulting firms under his belt, Paul Schueller is an industry expert poised to leverage innovation and the Franklin Energy team to drive it forward. He leads the executive teams at Franklin Energy and Resource Action Programs to ensure sustainable growth and long-term success for our clients. Since founding Franklin Energy in 1994, he has grown the firm to more than 1,000 employees, along with diverse utility clients throughout the United States and into Canada. Paul contributes to numerous charitable foundations and scholarships for young professionals hoping to build a career in the industry. A mechanical engineer, Paul also holds an MBA from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

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