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A 10-step guide to superior customer experience in energy retail

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Victoria Dreharova's picture
Demand Generation Marketer Methodia

Experienced marketing professional with strong international B2B background, multi-industry experience (Finance, IT & Utilities) and value added skills: - Marketing strategy development...

  • Member since 2019
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This item is part of the Special Issue - 2019-05 - Customer Care, click here for more

What are the key ingredients to outstanding customer experience in energy supply? And what is the secret to turning clients into your loyal utility brand ambassadors?

Although technology is reshaping the industry at a fast pace and utilities are in the race to invest in more and revolutionary digital solutions, such as energy efficiency, EV and smart home apps, at present many energy suppliers are still struggling to maintain their market position and even reputation. Some energy companies are experiencing issues with their billing accuracy, due to the absence of advanced technological resources; others can’t win clients’ trust because of slow processes and the lack of tariffs transparency. However most utility organizations agree on one simple fact: they are unable to achieve continuous satisfactory levels in their customer services. As a result people are either switching away from these companies or complaining to the regulatory bodies.

In this new and changing environment we decided to take a closer look at the energy industry, to understand how consumers’ behavior is shifting utilities’ priorities, changing business strategies and setting new service standards. We collected some really valuable insights to help you set new guidelines in your energy organization and customer support department.

     1. Adopt a consistent approach towards customers

An important aspect of the sales and marketing strategy is customer experience (CX) and the way clients interact with your energy brand. CX is an integral part of the value proposition of utility retailers, because very often it is their main competitive advantage and the key to business longevity. Nowadays unhappy clients have an enormous choice where to go if they don’t like a company’s offer. In fact, the level of customer services makes up the core of the customer retention policy and ultimately leads to success, growth and profitability. After all, it is a service-based business and regardless of how cheap tariff plans are, customers will always be ready to shop elsewhere for energy and pay even more money, in order to be treated as well as they feel they deserve. And this is especially valid for the changing ecosystem of energy supply.

     2. Use innovation to comply with industry standards

Energy industry is quite complex and to be able to navigate in this difficult business environment could take time, deeper knowledge and sufficient resources. Apart from big suppliers, most utility companies on the market vary from small to medium enterprises with limited in-house experts and insufficient financial back-up to withstand major price changes on the wholesale market or new retail business requirements. To be successful in the energy vertical and to meet the required standards of performance, supply companies need to build a synergy between their front- and back-office teams. This can happen by adopting the right set of procedures and by being fully covered when it comes to the technology used: precise workflow based on clear processes and complete software customization and flexibility, with reporting capabilities are really essential.

     3. Build smooth customer relations management

Amazing customer service means predicting what customers would demand from your business before they actually ask for it. Therefore an important aspect of your customer relations would be setting clear customer expectations; a precise scope of what your offer includes and afterwards maintaining and even improving the impression you have left upon initial interaction. How you handle energy consumers the first time they need your assistance is extremely important, as the feedback from this communication would eventually get your service referred to more people, or not.

А good customer relations management process is strongly related to establishing, training and keeping a motivated Customer Service department.  Having a team who is dedicated to answering calls, emails and chats swiftly and professionally, and who is willing to address the root-cause of the problems, is essential to drive positive company reviews. What most energy retailers don’t understand is that they can learn a lot about their business and how to improve it if they actually regard complaints as important customer insights. Listening carefully to the customer’s voice will ultimately result in reducing churn and building a successful utility brand.

     4. Resolve complaints on first contact

Customers’ demands are getting more and more complex every day. More sophisticated requests result in more issues or complaints, which need to be addressed. In order to be more efficient in your energy supply services, give customers the possibility to speak to the right person straight away, to solve their problem or request in the initial stage of communication. Don’t let clients be passed around departments and different staff for hours, having to explain more than once their issue and frustration to your team. This approach could really escalate the matter and result in an argument or even an email complaint rather than help your business succeed.

Have part of your staff available at all times to allow energy consumers to get through the phone line and have their call answered, preferably in less than a minute. In today’s technological era, where everything happens almost real-time, this is an essential point to customers. Waiting on a constantly busy line, sometimes for several hours or even all day long, could get you negative online reviews much faster than you would expect. And one bad opinion or simple miscommunication could cost you a lot of potential new customers.

     5. Improve response time and quality

Shorten resolution times by optimizing and reducing the necessary steps to deal with an issue or request. Providing an overview on the process and the next steps for customers will help you improve communications. Keeping clients updated on the progress of their request or complaint at every stage, same-day feedback and even problem resolution, will be highly appreciated and will make you stand out among your competitors. At present less than 15% of complaints are resolved in such a short period of time, but there is specialized software on the energy market that has support and tasks management functionalities to help you speed up your performance in this domain.

Don’t let customers chase you for a reply or an update on their issue. Give them closure immediately after a request has been processed or fulfilled, and even provide customers with an apology, if necessary. When a customer reaches out to you with a complaint, an even more beneficial approach for you would be to apologize for the inconvenience prior to attempting to solve it. Nothing looks more professional than an acknowledgement, a straightforward approach towards problems and being able to provide status information or even express regret if customers’ demands are not met on time. Don’t forget that having the problem fixed is the main goal of their complaint, so keeping silent about the actual resolution is not advisable.

     6. Automate key business processes

Reducing and excluding unnecessary steps of your daily activities very often can save you up to 50% more time. Optimization and automation helps energy companies free their staff of tons of manual workload, which could be directed elsewhere, resulting in increased business efficiency and overall maximized performance. There is process management software that can help you define business rules in utility retail management and track processes status real-time.

     7. Rely on outsourced support

To achieve long-term sustainability in the industry, companies could partner with an experienced consultancy company if they feel they lack expertise inside their organizations. Sufficient market and industry knowledge about all the specifics could become critical for your business. Most often the struggle starts in the back-office operations, with meter measurements, billing accuracy, energy volume purchasing, demand and supply forecasting needing the highest attention. You need to consider that usually customer services are a result of the way processes and systems work and how teams are trained to take action to issues via phone and email.

A beneficial approach for any supplier would be getting a business evaluation and gap analysis, and also fully integrating a complete set of energy retail systems adhering to new industry standards and codes. They will help you avoid penalties and improve your back-office operations when it comes to recording, categorizing, assessing and analyzing customer complaints and requests in order to enhance your customer services and communications in the future.

     8. Demonstrate understanding and services transparency

Figuring out what is requested or expected from your business is the most important task of an energy retailer. Even if you are struggling at present, listening to customers and taking notice of their demands will help you turn your business around really fast and eventually you’ll receive requests instead of complaints. Full control and visibility over supplied services is the next step that will definitely help you empower customers and build long-lasting trust towards your utility company. Introducing a self-service portal to your client base would do a great job in this direction. A customized self-service platform with extensive capabilities will help you achieve a more personalized approach towards clients and ultimately you’ll be selling more relevant offerings to them, skyrocketing your business ahead of competitors.

     9. Drive customer engagement and communications

Every encounter a consumer has with your Customer Service department is an opportunity for you to set your business apart from the rest and to cement the existing positive impression clients have of your company. Different and smart incentives, such as discount coupons or special loyalty programs, help build retention and an outstanding reputation of going above and beyond for a great customer experience. Eventually you’ll be able to drive positive referrals, resulting in a higher acquisition rate on the market.

Keeping multiple channels of communication open for easy and quick interactions with your customers is essential.  Create a feeling that you are available and ready to acknowledge their issues and requests. Social media and the use of mobile apps is an awesome way to show that clients matter to you and your business, so use them wisely!

10. Stay prepared for future demands

Think like a customer in order to always stay ahead of your clients! Ask yourself what are the pain points and what could you do better to improve their opinion of your company; what might they like to have, but have never asked for? Considering how your business might grow in the future in terms of products and additional services, it is important to scale your technology in advance and be more flexible and prepared to meet upcoming demands and market realities.

And remember: one of the main prerequisites towards modern utility retail is honesty and transparence. Giving your customers complete visibility over the general terms and conditions of the services you provide, how you supply them, as well as full overview on your tariffs, is the foundation of an everlasting customer trust and satisfaction.

Victoria Dreharova's picture
Thank Victoria for the Post!
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