Until recently, most of us didn’t even know the name of the utility company proving us water, gas or power. That is changing. As the cost of water, gas and power go up (now most households set aside as much as 10% of income to pay utility bills) customers are becoming impatient with faults, disruptions, lack of product bundles that meet their needs and, of course, they are mad as hell when it comes to poor service. For utilities, just like other industries, when customers call, it is the moment of truth. But are they prepared for the customer?
Just how customer centric are utilities? For decades utilities have focused on laying down their infrastructure and have been taking pride in their technical capabilities. Now, they are suddenly finding the customer is actually at the center of their very survival. Emerging regulations (in the UK, Ofgem's introduction of RIIO with T1, GD1 and ED1) are placing greater emphasis on engagements with stakeholders, especially customers. These regulations are bringing in a host of incentives and penalties that will shape the future of the utility business.
Utility Week, along with Wipro, commissioned a survey to look at how prepared utilities were to address customer needs. The study, called Center Forward surveys senior decision-makers in regulated water, gas and electricity companies in the UK [access content and report here]. Reading it is a revealing journey into the minds of senior management aiming to become more customer centric. Practically everything is turning up on their radar: data, analytics, predictive tools to forecast what customers want, open communication channels, multi-channel access to customers, the introduction of mobile and social technologies, app development, redesigning customer facing processes, customer engagement, loyalty and reward management, customer segmentation -- the whole nine yards. If utilities focus on these through 2014-15, which the study shows they plan to, we’ll see a tectonic shift in the way utilities function.
The question is: how well prepared are utilities to handle this new world of impatient customer demands and the technologies that go into managing them? How do you divine how customers prefer to be served? How do you find resolutions to their problems the first time without escalating complaints to higher levels? How do you let customers manage their own bill payments, connections, product bundles and complaint status? How do you communicate emergencies to customers and minimize their impact? How do you manage third party contractors in a manner that does not impact your reputation with customers?
We think that utilities need superior capability for traditional stuff (better statisticians, models, tools and technologies) that improves overall competitiveness and which dovetails into customer centricity. What they would benefit from is a 360 degree approach, assisted by the knowledge and expertise of an external partner. Fortunately, as the study shows, utilities are more than open to using external assistance. That, if nothing else, will give them the legs to move ahead accurately, faultlessly and fast.