The utility space today is in a state of flux with new players vying for a share in the pie, mounting environmental concerns, and tighter regulations. As if these challenges weren’t enough, customers seem to be willing to change their service providers at the drop of a hat. In the first few months of 2013, more than 20% of customers in Europe had switched their utility service provider. An alarming bit of statistic that clearly warns utility companies not to take customers for granted.
Utilities are therefore determined to find ways to ensure customer stickiness. They have help at hand in the form of innovative technologies that can be harnessed to offer greater customer convenience, better interaction and thereby, an enhanced customer experience. Portable devices with superior features, apps for these devices, data and M2M technologies, and social media, are already transforming the face of the utility industry.
Consider the sheer number of customer channels. While utilities continue to use call centers, they are increasingly making use of online chat, e-mail, SMS, and social media to enrich customer experience. However, the lack of channel seamlessness has put their efforts to waste. Siloed information leads to data inconsistency, leaving the customer using more than one channel with a less-than-satisfactory feeling about the interaction. Channel integration therefore, has to figure as a priority in the to-do list of utilities.
Further, with the proliferation of portable devices, many utilities have come out with compatible customer-facing apps. For instance, many utilities provide apps that help customers to access outage-related data. While these apps enable customer communication like never before, most of them are either too simple, or look like they are intended not for consumers, but businesses. More work clearly needs to be done in terms of feature enrichment and design. Linking the company’s mobile app with social media also improves the quality of customer experience.
The number of apps available is very limited as well. Utilities should invest in app creation as hand-held gadgets are ideal for management of devices like smart meters and for offering self-service facility to customers for payment of bills, lodging of complaints etc.
Leveraging technology for better customer experience benefits utilities in several ways. Higher customer engagement and satisfaction levels ensure greater loyalty and lesser churn. Companies can also raise additional revenue as customers will be more receptive to companies’ up-sell attempts. The company’s brand image receives a boost too, aiding new customer acquisition. Thanks to the simplification of the payment process, the company can improve cash flows too.
For Gen Y consumers who clearly do not care to use the web or dial a customer care number to interact with the utility service provider, the advantages of apps mounted on portable devices are manifold.
There is convenience in terms of time saved, ability to interact on the move and an easy touch-screen interface. The communication is two-way as well. It is therefore imperative for utilities to improve the quality of customer touch points in order to attract and retain the discerning millennial consumer.