Even with a wealth of new engagement tools companies can use to prove value to customers, the utilities industry cannot shake its reputation for offering subpar customer service.
A 2019 J.D. 2019 J.D. Power survey of water companies, for example, found that proactive communication such as personalized phone calls or emails had a positive effect on customers’ perception of their utility companies. However, just 28% of customers recalled seeing this kind of communication from their providers.
For decades, customers had no choice but to use utility companies for all their needs — no questions asked. The occasional unsatisfying experience was an unfortunate part of being a utilities customer.
Now, thanks to new technologies that have extended the variety and scope for energy and allied services — such as lower-cost solar and photovoltaic equipment, electric cars, and real-time insights into energy consumption — customers have far more influence over how much they consume and which companies they buy these services from. Gone are the days when the only thing customers could do to lower monthly electric bills was flip the lights off.
Today, the changes utility companies have to make are essentially large-scale supply and demand shifts: Customers seek strategic, personalized uses for technology, and utility companies should actively work to meet that demand.
Utility Companies and Customer Experience: 3 Dimensions of Change
Breaking down these shifts in the industry reveals a nuanced picture of what’s truly happening in the utilities sphere. A few areas of change depend heavily on improved customer experience:
1. Customers want options (and more of a conversation), or they demand greater choice and control. Again, today’s customers have much more control over their utilities experience. For instance, they can modulate their electricity use based on peak and nonpeak hours, how much electricity they can save or produce with their own home, and how much their use impacts the grid.
All these trends are driving several innovations in the energy marketplace, and they bring many new players that can readily offer such services. The ability to provide these personalized options and control to customers will be the defining DNA of successful companies.
It’s also very likely that high-performing companies will benefit from a “winner takes all” effect. This is because customers are likely to prefer a one-stop shop for all their energy interactions in order to simplify their lives. Trust, seamless experiences, and mutually rewarding financial models will be key to achieving this.
2. Customer experience is becoming the only success metric. Traditionally, customer engagement has been a stand-alone function for utility companies that were primarily concerned with service requests and fielding customer calls.
Carrying out this function had a very limited impact on utility companies’ overall business plans, which included securing regulatory approval for grid-related investments, customer acquisition and retention, and more. However, due to today’s intense competition as well as regulatory and consumer activism, the ability to track and analyze customer experiences now defines the business model of modern utility companies.
Regulators are even turning to customer satisfaction metrics to determine the fate of utility companies in a process known as performance-based regulation. Moving forward, the successful companies will be those that can find proven ways to attract and retain satisfied customers.
3. Customers want to buy utilities like they buy everything else. With the advent of e-commerce and algorithmic media, customer experience at large has gravitated more toward hyperpersonalization.
Now, customers — rather than the companies they are buying from — gain increasing control. Customers want to see utility companies show up as applications on their phone alongside their banks, favorite clothing brands, and social media platforms, and this is especially true for younger people.
A 2018 study from Chartwell found that these kinds of mobile apps increased customer satisfaction by 12%. However, utility companies should go beyond simply creating an app. Design thinking and analytics collected to improve user experience are critical in making apps personalized and highly functional.
If one thing is clear, it’s that going digital and getting personal is a crucial part of modern customer experience across all industries, not just utilities.
How Wipro Approaches Customer Experience Shifts in Utilities
Imagine that you’re a utility company stretched thin by the volume of calls streaming into your support center. Your area recently experienced a heat wave, and your phones are ringing off the hook with customers who are upset because their higher-than-expected utility bills maxed out their monthly budgets.
This is where digital tools such as artificial intelligence and analytics combine to power personalized customer experiences. This requires an interconnectedness of digital tools supported by agile, connected business processes. In turn, the most accurate customer insights can be pushed to the right channel at speed.
A utility company thinking myopically about customer experience would probably be too overwhelmed by the volume of calls to share meaningful, personalized solutions with each customer. A company keeping that experience top of mind, however, would already have a system in place allowing it to pull up a caller’s energy consumption habits, see insights powered by big data analytics, and easily make recommendations that address the caller’s individual concern.
If that customer has a history of low use in the winter, for example, the company could offer the customer a fixed-cost plan and direct him or her to make that switch using a mobile app. It doesn’t stop there: The mobile app might also offer resources about installing solar panels that save money and put more power back into your company’s grid.
At Wipro, our goal is to partner with the forward-thinking organizations that want to retain their edge into the future. With the help of our innovation teams and technology centers around the world, we’re focused on designing user-centered solutions that address each dimension of change happening in the utilities industry.
A recent report by IDC MarketScape highlighted a few of Wipro’s capabilities that make us an industry leader in customer experience for utility companies. Besides this, Wipro launched an internal program to comprehensively address challenges that utility companies face. Employees selected to participate are assigned to one of six “domain tribes” — customer services, network operations, new energy services, energy trading and risk management, corporate services, and new information technology — and are trained across seven digital technology chapters.
Examples of services that Wipro takes to market for each chapter (thanks to the customer services domain tribe) include:
- Enterprise industry platforms: Customer information systems transformation
- Internet of Things solutions and analytics: Utility retail analytics, IoT-enabled meter data management
- Business automation: Contact center modernization for multichannel customer care, smart meter anomaly detection
- Digital experience: Digital marketing operations as a service
- Agile engineering: Agile retail services
- Blockchain: Certificates of origin and renewable energy credit
- Cyber risk and security: Customer data privacy compliance
To see how your utility company can innovate in these areas and more, contact Wipro today. We’ll help you prepare for the customer demands of the future.