This special interest group is where customer care professionals share tactics on how utilities are improving interactions with their customers. 

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Give Key Customers What They Want

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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...

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To attract big businesses utilities must continue to advance and evolve their products and services.  However, business customers have options and they expect reliable service, excellent customer service and a utility with a positive presence in the community.  Just focusing on customer satisfaction, one study supported the direct connection between power reliability and customer satisfaction.  The study found that utilities performing better on access also did better on keeping customers satisfied. The quality of power also played an important part in customer satisfaction, as satisfied customers in this study reported fewer outages.  Beyond reliability, power quality, billing process and staff behavior were listed as major drivers to customer satisfaction.  Big businesses offering innovation can not pair themselves with less than up-to-date business practices.  It reflects poorly on everyone.  

Digitalization is also creating new data streams, increasing expectations for more real-time and actionable data to maximize convenience and savings. Utilities are pushing ahead with products and services to meet the challenge. This week, TVA’s Green Invest program announced the development of a solar farm by Origis Energy to help Google reach its long-term sustainability goals.  “Such utility innovations are helping Google reach its aim to be the first major company to operate carbon free by 2030,” said Johan Vanhee, Origis Energy chief commercial officer and chief procurement officer.   

Great products and programs bring long-term power purchase agreements but expert customer care is still required. To say customer service is important would be an understatement. In fact, key electric utility customers, such as manufacturing facilities, hospitals, universities and data centers, like Google, can often represent 30%-50% of an electric utility’s annual revenue.   How can utilities improve their customer's experience?  According to the J.D. Power 2019 Business Electric Utility Key Account Satisfaction Study, the key to achieving that higher level of customer satisfaction is dedicated account management that includes joint planning sessions to assess customer needs throughout the year.  “Electric utilities are proving to their key accounts that they are able to deliver the types of highly personalized, customer-centric account management processes that resonate in the form of better advocacy and higher levels of customer satisfaction,” said Kelly Jackson, Manager of Utilities Intelligence at J.D. Power. “Far and away, the most important factor driving strong performance with key accounts is the deployment of joint planning sessions to assist with customer concerns, issues and expectations. This step helps demonstrate how utilities are creating value and fostering a real sense of partnership with their key accounts.”  The study examines satisfaction across six factors: Power Quality and Reliability; Billing and Payment; Price; Communications; Corporate Citizenship; and Customer Contact.  The results allow utilities to: (1) Measure critical components that drive overall satisfaction among business utility customers.  (2) Identify the relative strengths and weaknesses of electric utilities overall and by size.  (3) Align strategic planning and improvement initiatives with core business customer desires and needs.  

What can we learn from the utility scores of our neighbors in the north?  Berkshire Hathaway Energy’s AltaLink in Alberta, Canada has increased their customer satisfaction scores. The transmission company’s commitment to Flat for Five may be the cause for rave reviews.  The initiative promises not to raise transmission rates between 2019 and 2023.  Their goal is to partner with customers to provide innovative solutions to meet the demand for reliable and affordable energy.  Can that approach be repurposed to serve customer needs here?  Has the pandemic lowered customer exceptions?  If anything, it has accelerated demand for resiliency, efficiency and accountability.  

Andrejka Bernatova, CFO at Houston-based Enchanted Rock LLC, a resiliency microgrid company, said customers want grid energy, reliability, more control of behind-the-meter solutions, storage, and regeneration, all with a focus on resiliency first and then on costs.  Cost and resiliency focuses seem most important for clients such as smaller groceries and hospitals, said Bernatova, but for larger customers, like data centers and larger store chains, “the green solutions are very, very important.”  What this means for utility customer interaction is that the clean and ESG push is driving conversations about resiliency in the boardrooms. She added, customers also now want a long-term, multiyear resiliency program, which previously hadn’t been a consideration. 

A lot has changed in the industry since last year’s customer satisfaction results but one thing remains the same. Customer expectations are climbing.  How is your utility giving the customers what they want?  Reliable power and superior customer service.

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