The report Center Forward published this week by Utility Week and Wipro that surveys senior decision-makers in regulated water, gas and electricity companies in the UK is the equivalent of a 'State of the Union' address [access content and report here]. For network companies, it shifts the focus from "what does my service cost?" to "what does my customer want?" Frankly, the responses of executives captured in the report reflect a refreshing new customer centric era in utilities. Everyone is becoming customer centric – telecom companies, banks, retail, consumer goods, even education. Utilities can’t ignore what their customers are saying or what they want. An entire generation of consumers who have never used anything other than a mobile to seek customer support or to pay their bills is emerging. There is no running away from creating services for them and from being totally customer centric.
Utilities and bills have come in for considerable public scrutiny in recent times; and rightly so. They have become the #2 outgoing for many of us. A recent BBC survey has suggested that more people worry about paying utility bills than any other household expense. Add to this the costs of countering climate change, and utilities face a double whammy of bad news: how do they cope with the billions of pounds of investment needed to address climate change whilst responding to their customers’ increasing unwillingness and inability to pay?
Then there is the bad press to deal with. The recent Christmas storms that severely damaged UK power supplies had such a serious impact that they attracted parliamentary attention. Energy company bosses were summoned by MPs to explain the "unacceptable" performance in restoring power. Several companies admitted that customers had been let down and they should have, and could have, done more.
Against this backdrop, I wonder how likely it is that customers would actually rate utility services positively? Not very, one assumes. On the other hand, how likely are utility bosses to rate their efforts to be customer centric high? The Utility Week-Wipro report throws interesting light on the subject.
Let me kill the suspense. The study asked utility bosses to rate how responsive to customer needs their firms are right now, on a scale of 1-5, with one being poor and 5 extremely responsive. Perhaps unsurprisingly most opted for 4 out of 5: 58 per cent overall; 57 per cent in water; 67 per cent in electricity and 33 per cent in gas. Where does the mismatch between industry and customer perception come from? What does it tell us about customer centricity in utilities? Do utilities need a reality check? I am pleased to note that this report could be that reality check. For those in the utilities business, it uncovers a whole lot of things we can realistically be doing to increase our focus on the customer.