Utilities in the UK are going through a maturity phase. The days of being asset oriented and engineering focused are over. They are waking up to the fact that at the end of their pipes there is – 'oh! – a customer'. There are a number of reasons for this. First, and perhaps the most important, is the fact that since 2008 there has been widespread change in the way business is done. Coming out of a debilitating recession where the focus was on cost efficiencies, businesses are now turning their attention to offering more product choices to customers, finding ways to acquire new customers and retaining old one. Second, with the growth in mobile, social and other interactive self-service technologies, the number of channels and customer touch points has grown. An entire generation that has never used anything other than a smartphone to pay bills and interact with providers is here. Lastly, regulations such as Ofgem’s RIIO are coming in, compelling Utilities to address innovation, pricing and customer service. Realistically speaking, change is being forced upon the industry.
It should therefore come as no surprise that the joint research by Wipro and Utility Week showed 90% of respondents saying their customer centricity has grown over the last five years. Be sure, customer centricity will dominate Utility conversations over the next decade as funding, incentives and penalties get directly linked to customer satisfaction. Earlier, Utilities may have considered customer centricity as good to have; now it is an essential component of measuring business health and sustainability.
This means a radical shift within Utilities – their frameworks, processes, technologies and mindsets. Where Utilities once had a Department of Metering and a Department of Engineering and where Inventory and Supply Chain were important, they will need to build an organization structure to include departments that manage marketing and brand campaigns, those that create better products to suit changing customer needs and departments that address customer complaints and queries over a vast number of complex channels. In essence, they will need to build the organization around their customers rather than their infrastructure.
Utilities, it appears, are already moving towards their goals of customer centricity. Our study shows that 62% believe they will be able to rate their company 5 out of 5 for customer centricity within the next 12 months. This is an ambitious target given that currently only 14% gave themselves such a high score. The optimism we see reflected in our research could be misplaced.
Where does this optimism come from? It is quite likely that Utilities believe they will go digital – by rolling out large IT programs around CRM platforms, customer service portals and contact centers – and get closer to their customers.
However, Utilities have an abstract understanding of IT. They have often been unhappy with their IT projects which typically have long implementation timelines, are inflexible and frequently have budget over-runs. Bluntly put, Utilities have not been known to translate their ideas into IT success.
What will it take Utilities to adopt technology and bring customers to the heart of their activities? The answer really depends on where they currently are in their IT journey, how close they perceive themselves as being to the customer and how close they actually are, the kind of investments they will make over the next few years in their bid to become customer centric and how much they can realistically achieve over the next two to three years.