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Customer Experience Initiatives Surpass Products and Pricing

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Nevelyn Black's picture
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Nevelyn Black is an independent writer with a background in broadcast and a keen interest in renewable energy.  In the last few years, she transitioned from celebrity interviews and film shoots...

  • Member since 2017
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  • Oct 29, 2020

Are the majority seeking a pleasant, personable experience or a quick and convenient one-stop shop? Do your customers value convenience over experience?   Is it possible to have both?  A couple years ago, Tendril CEO, Adrian Tuck, summed up the challenge faced by utility companies eager to upgrade their customer care.  “They could work with small and innovative companies, each of which solved a small piece of the puzzle, but forced the utility into too many systems-integration projects and presented a disconnected customer journey…Or they could work with big traditional enterprise software companies who were not consumer-centric.” 

Utility companies are investing more and more into the quality of their customer service. FirstEnergy recently featured their customer service department during Careers in Energy Week.  They are proud of the more than 1,000 customer service representatives (CSRs) engaged in meeting the needs of their customers.  Whether it’s billing, contact center support, quality assurance, or online support, CSRs in FirstEnergy's contact centers act as the first line of interaction with customers.  They are trained in areas of empathy, active listening, and adaptability to help customers who are experiencing financial difficulties.  The Quality Assurance Department reinforces these efforts by reviewing and providing feedback on interactions and how they can all improve.  "Good customer service is about providing consistent and positive experiences," said Amanda Helinski, FirstEnergy’s manager for customer service performance. "Quality’s job is to ensure customers get the quality of service that they expect."   What do they expect?  Personalization.  How can utilities provide the same personal, quaint and down-right charming customer experience of a small, progressive, independent artisan or mom-and-pop shop? And is that really necessary? Can it be achieved through automated systems and artificial intelligence? 

By 2021, 15% of all customer service interactions will be completely handled by AI, an increase of 400% from 2017.  Regarding necessity, customers no longer base their loyalty on price or product. Instead, they stay loyal with companies due to the experience they receive. If you cannot keep up with their increasing demands, your customers will leave you.  Recent studies reveal the expectations, recommendations and behaviors of utility customers as well.  Customers who rated their utility communications as highly personalized had 28% higher ratings of overall utility satisfaction.  Today’s customers are proactive and willing to participate to improve customer care and personalization.  58% of customers indicated they’d answer 10 questions in exchange for a more personalized recommendation–further demonstrating the value to customers.  Following personalization, other suggested utility adjustments include revisiting the business model and scaling the customer success capability using digital tools and data.  As the technology becomes available, utilities are upgrading and improving the experience of each customer.  However, this usually means employing the services of various AI or cloud-based software companies.  

Back in 2018, after much discussion with several senior executives, an incredible solution was presented.  Adrian Tuck asked “If I bought the leading small companies in the space and integrated them into one, would you buy from that company?” Motivated by their resounding yes, Uplight was conceived.  Now made up of 6 companies, Uplight provides software to more than 85 of North America's utilities supplying electricity and gas to 110 million homes and businesses in North America.  “The innovation is not in how any one of these things work, but in the fact that we have built a seamless customer experience upon a single platform that’s the first of its kind in our industry,” Tuck said.

Business professionals are focusing on and investing in Customer Experience initiatives over products and pricing.  Are you?  A Walker study found that at the end of 2020, customer experience will overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator.  Is your utility building loyalty through excellent customer service?  Beyond technology, what is required?  If you’re buying a home, how would you rate the convenience of a well-known homebuilder to contracting a good carpenter but having second thoughts about the electrician and plumber you just found online? There is peace of mind and security in the one-stop shop but how can utilities provide the authentic experience of a ‘craftsman’ built home?  One that stands the test of time or in this case, one that creates long-lasting loyalty from your utility customers?




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