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Six things a new survey tells us about how utilities can create an Amazon-like customer experience

Amazon. Netflix. Lyft. These are the companies that have redefined the expectations that today’s electric and gas utilities customers have for what makes an engaging, relevant and satisfactory customer experience. And amidst this massive shift in customer expectations, as well as increasing consumer energy choice and grid-edge expansion, utilities have become all too aware how important it is now to become more effective at engaging their customers and providing a satisfying experience. According to Greentech Media, utility personnel today believe that investment in customer engagement is the #1 driver to achieving future business objectives.

But in the midst of complex, expensive and slow IT system environments, often poor cross-functional coordination, and uncertainty around cloud security and capitalization concerns—how much progress have utilities made toward creating a modern customer experience?

To better understand the changing utility-customer relationship, and the expanding range of engagement capabilities across utilities, EnergySavvy partnered with Greentech Media (GTM) Research to design a survey of electric and gas utility executives and program leaders from more than 30 utilities serving 47 states across the U.S. The objective was to measure relative overall customer experience maturity in six key “lenses” (or best-practice areas): People & Organization; Process & Operations; Systems, Data & Analytics; Customer Engagement; Brand & Market Engagement; and, KPIs & Measurement.

The results were in some respects unsurprising (utilities have a lot of work to do on their data!), while in others illuminated the areas where the best performing utilities are investing––and seeing results (hint: better KPIs are key).

Across the utilities surveyed and utility executives interviewed, we found that most utilities are still early in their overall Customer Experience Maturity, though a number are steadily progressing. Among the most notable findings were the correlations between maturity and positive business outcomes. For example, utilities who have the lowest customer cost-to-serve score nearly 60% higher in customer engagement best practices. Similarly, those with the best regulatory outcomes score more than 30% higher in customer engagement maturity––illustrating why improving the customer experience should be a critical focus for utilities.

There are, of course, many more fascinating findings, as well as clear opportunities for utilities to move up the Customer Experience Maturity curve and begin to bridge the customer experience gap. In particular, the survey results indicated six important takeaways that utilities can focus on to advance their trajectory on the maturity curve including:

  • Investments in Customer Experience Maturity Pay Off

The consistent correlations that exist between those utilities with the highest reported levels of customer experience best-practice maturity and positive utility business outcomes indicate that investments made in continuing to move up the maturity curve can provide concrete business benefits to an organization. These business benefits include improved regulatory outcomes and a reduced cost-to-serve.

  • Establish Customer-focused, Cross-functional KPIs

The survey results indicated clear challenges regarding the effective use of customer-focused KPIs in utilities, as well as the tough challenges of working across departments and functions. One utility executive interviewed said that it would be ideal to have customer-centric KPIs across the organization and not just for customer-facing groups, but they are far from achieving that goal. Having consistent KPIs for all departments would be a key step to improve cross-functional support for customer engagement teams.

  • Invest in Technological Updates to Improve Cost-to-Serve

Around 1/3 of respondents indicated their utilities have invested in all three types of technological updates in the last five years including back-end IT systems, core customer systems, and cloud-based software applications. Based on the survey responses, those utilities with more comprehensive investments in improving customer experience are twice as likely to have a better cost-to-serve than those at industry average level.

  • Catch-up in Systems, Data & Analytics Capabilities

The effective use of Systems, Data & Analytics tools is one of the least developed areas of the overall utility customer experience maturity. To get to the level of personalization that modern customers have come to expect, utilities will need to accelerate their investments in analytics to get the most from their often disparate customer data systems.

  • Partner to Accelerate Technology

Those utility leaders interviewed revealed that the lack of internal IT capabilities are a critical reason for slowing down the utilities’ efforts in better engaging customers––leaving customer engagement teams looking for integration solutions from third party vendors that can help meet this need while also reducing, rather than increasing, IT demands and cost. Fortunately, customer experience-focused technology vendors are active with a range of solutions and are able to bridge the gap between internal capabilities and utility goals.

  • Improve Internal Processes and Communication

Both the survey and interviews indicate there are significant data and communication silos across utilities, preventing the optimization of customer engagement efforts. Improving these processes is an important change, but one that requires senior executive-level priority.
 

It’s an exciting time for the utility industry as we see utilities evolve to better meet their customers’ growing needs and expectations. And while most utilities recognize that customer engagement should be their number one priority, there are significant hurdles in the way of optimizing the customer experience. Fortunately, utilities can leverage third party vendors to bridge the gap while changing internal processes and KPI’s to be more cross-functional and less siloed. And best of all, utility leaders can avoid the multi-year software implementation headaches with cloud software. Not only is cloud software more quickly deployed, but it can enable utilities to link key data on customers and offers, and make it available on any platform or channel.

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