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Harvesting Value from Customer Relationships

By: ipopba iStock

Up until the past decade or so, little had changed in the utility business or change was moving so slowly we didn’t notice. Fast forward to 2019 and energy providers are challenged with shrinking revenue, and risk from growing competition.  While competition is obviously a concern in deregulated markets all utilities will find the need in the future to shore up their customer base as revenue continues to erode, energy storage improves, digital disruption gains traction, and renewables begin to deplete market share.

Forward thinking energy professionals know that customers are their greatest asset and laying the groundwork now by building strong customer relationships will ensure they can influence the outcome of this transitional time in the energy industry. Doing so will require more than the traditional 8 minutes a year customer’s currently hold energy top of mind.

Strong customer relationships and improved brand image begins with effective communication strategies. In the past utilities often avoided direct communication with customers, using strict corporate communications policies to safeguard against any backlash they might encounter. That approach will not work with the new energy customer who expects an open dialogue with their service providers. Taking that one step further, McKinsey and Company recently released a study that concluded by digitizing customer interactions customer satisfaction can be increased by 33% and costs can be reduced by 25-35%.

What works?

  • Personalization: We’re not talking about just adding a name but adding actual energy use data or personalized billing data. Customers know businesses collect data and appreciate it when that data is used as a proactive way to improve service. Using customer specific energy use data utilities can offer targeted digital communications explaining what rate is best for a customer based on behavior or suggest ways to save by shifting load to off-peak hours.
  • Relevance: Make sure you are communicating the right message to the right people. Renters don’t want to replace their heating system or change out a water heater. Your messages will quickly lose credibility if it is not relevant.
  • Feedback: Remarkably, just the fact that you offer the option to share feedback will help your brand image and boost customer satisfaction. Personal Video Messaging surveys collected data from utility customers who gave as much as 98% positive feedback.
  • Omni-Channel Approach: Leverage digital media, social platforms, email, text, video and traditional communications channels so customers have a choice about how they receive your information.
  • Consistent Messaging: Be sure your CSRs, website, and outbound messages provide a consistent and reliable source of information. Using multiple channels requires a uniform message.

Leverage Opportunities to Engage

Utilities are seeing the need for modern rate designs that fit a multitude of situations and lifestyles. In addition, beneficial electrification strategies are becoming more critical. Capitalizing on the emerging electric vehicle market and successful execution of new rate designs will require reaching customers with relevant messages tailored specifically to the customers’ needs and interests.

The good news is the smart grid gives utilities access to billions of data points a day, data that can be used to increase operational efficiency and to engage customers with useful and profitable information. Using this data responsibly can provide a win-win for customers and utilities. Even without smart meters, data can be easily and securely translated into useful bits of information about how we use energy.

Customers have more control today than ever before over how they use energy and who supplies their energy resources. Yes, in 2019 our industry is evolving but, customer expectations are evolving faster. It will take proactive strategies to thrive in the emerging energy landscape. The utility of the future is in in the hands of our customer, be sure you are sowing trust. To harvest the value from customer relationships utilities must be willing to open the dialogue and lead the conversation.

Karen Morris's picture

Thank Karen for the Post!

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