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How To Lay the Foundation for Transforming the Utility Customer Experience

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Tim Valin's picture
Energy & Utilities Director West Monroe Partners

Tim Valin works with utilities across North America, supporting financial planning, budgeting, cost-benefit analyses, technology selection, organizational design, business process optimization...

  • Member since 2019
  • 1 items added with 3,738 views
  • May 30, 2019

This item is part of the Utility Customer Care - Spring 2019, click here for more

Traditionally, utility leaders have not prioritized investments in the customer experience. Many of them operate without direct competition — by necessity, customers sign up and stay  — so, their main investment focus has been infrastructure.

However, a few trends are changing this: In the age of Amazon, consumers’ ideas of what the customer experience should look like are changing. Also, distributed energy resources are providing customers with alternative methods of powering their homes. And, with a renewed and increased focus on energy efficiency, utilities are requiring more and more engagement from their customer base through education and incentives.

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Essentially, the customer experience is now at the forefront of all industries. But, the data shows that utility companies have a lot of room for improvement — customer satisfaction with gas and electric service providers fell 2.7 percent this year compared to last year, according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) Energy Utilities Report. But where do utilities start?

Overhauling the utility customer experience is not accomplished overnight. To truly transform the customer experience, utilities can start by laying the foundation.

  • Define the customer journey – Once you have a strong understanding of the types of customers your company serves, you learn how they interact with your brand from start to finish. Until you walk a mile in your customers’ shoes — and define the customer journey from end to end — you could waste time “fixing” parts of the experience that aren’t the most dire, or even need fixing in the first place. Maybe the sign-up process is going well for most customers, but most problems emerge in the billing process. Defining the customer journey will identify where you need to focus your efforts.
  • Get to know your customers – Getting to know your customers will give you an idea of what projects to prioritize and where you have large gaps in process and technology. For example, understanding the macro demographic makeup of your customer base can help you make smarter decisions on where to invest: Communities with a higher senior population may want to beef up their call center while those with a younger population may want to invest in mobile technology. Hosting focus groups can also help hear direct feedback from customers.
  • Identify pain points in the customer experience – Much of the customer experience now originates digitally — from service setup to monthly payment to reporting outages or issues. But frustration can surround these interactions if it is not as seamless as possible.
    For example, a customer may run into an issue where they’re charged for service even after moving and closing their account. In this scenario, a chatbot may fail to help them troubleshoot the issue without connecting to a real human, so the customer spends up to an hour on the phone just to reach a human voice. Then, that human representative may spend five minutes or more asking for detailed information — such as account number, address, name, date of birth — before the representative can actually start solving the problem. An experience like this lacks the simplicity and personalization already offered in other industries.
  • Develop a long-term road map – With all the research and information gathered in the focus group and customer journey stages, you can build a road map for transforming the customer experience. Taking action will likely call for increased resources and budget — and thus buy-in from leadership. In winning them over, it’s important to cite the collection of data points acquired during the research phases. Leaning on a third-party expert that has executed transformations like these before can also help you carry out the process faster and more efficiently. Remember — band-aid solutions won’t fix a broken customer experience for the long term. To deliver a better experience, you must lay a new foundation — which is why it’s never a bad idea to have an expert on your side.

Transforming the customer experience can seem like a huge undertaking if you don’t know where to start. The four areas described above can properly lay the groundwork for years-long transformations that, when done right, change the culture in a way that customer experience is no longer viewed as a “project” but as a way of doing business.

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