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Should utilities model their customer service programs off Amazon, Netflix, or Uber models.” Why or Why not?

Audra Drazga's picture
Vice President of The Power Industry Network Energy Central

I am the VP of the Energy Central Power Industry Network.  In this role, I help to connect professionals in the power industry through the development and management of topic-specific community...

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  • Jun 10, 2022

On a recent PowerSession hosted by Energy Central, in partnership with SalesForce and Utility 2030, the question was raised “Should utilities model their customer service programs off Amazon, Netflix, or Uber models.” Why or Why not?

I thought this would be a great discussion to bring into the community.  I would love to hear your thoughts.

And if you missed our recent PowerSession on ”Leveraging Customer Data to Impact Customer Behavioral Changes,” I invite you to listen to our on-demand recording.  The panelists discuss this question and more in a very dynamic and engaging conversation!


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As far as "Should utilities model their customer service programs off-of Amazon, Netflix, or Uber models," goes, I'd say "yes and no."

Yes, utilities should harvest best practices from customer obsessed brands for the things that those tech-led companies do very well.

Customer Self-Service:  These companies continually optimize their digital customer experience to shift the most common customer interactions to self-service, and utilities should have a strategy for digital self-service that extends beyond new energy starts and transfers to DR or TOW program enrollment, payment assistance plan registration, and other key services.  Customers appreciate doing these basic tasks on their smartphones, but with the ability to get live help when they need it.

Social Customer Service - If you think your customers aren't already using your Facebook and Instagram channels for customer support, check your feed.  Utilities can improve customer engagement and prepare themselves for the next generation of customers through social customer service.

Personalization: Those brands have led their industries in building truly personalized 1:1 relationships with their customers.  Utilities possess all of the energy use, demographic and segmentation data required to deliver a more personalized experience to their customers, but still send 1:all offers for learning thermostats despite the fact that those offers only appeal to home owners with larger bills.  Greeting customers by name, having their billing data in hand, and anticipating their needs is the function of CIS solutions merged with great customer service practices for a more personalized and satisfying experience.

On the other hand, utilities have a mandate to support ALL of their customers in the matter of delivering truly essential services.  I can do without same day delivery of my latest online purchase, but an extended outage or a billing mistake could create genuine distress for customers.

So, I also say "no," utilities shouldn't just adopt the same customer service model as these brands.  Utilities have a responsibility to meet customers in their channel of choice, so they should find a balance between the advantages of these "agile" companies and the often sensitive or complex issues utilities face with their customers.  The "move fast and break things" culture of tech led brands often clashes with the more serious aspects of utility business.  

James Riley's picture
James Riley on Jun 13, 2022


Great answer that elaborates on what I tried to say in response to the question during the PowerSession. The relationship between a utility and it's customers, in almost all cases, is very different from those other companies.

So copy them? No.

Be inspired by them? Yes.

Cherry pick the ideas that work best in a utility context? Absolutely!!!!

Mark Wilkinson's picture
Mark Wilkinson on Jun 20, 2022

James - agreed, and I like the way you described the scenario.  Really all about inspiration and adapting the lessons from those brand's CX strategies.  I caution our clients to Adapt a playbook, don't just adopt one.  Utilities face a lot of unique conditions, so must adapt strategies for their customer experience and the unique needs of their customers.

Dawn Lindell's picture
Dawn Lindell on Jul 1, 2022

Mark - I fully agree with your perspective.   Offer options for self service on the phone AND include in the top menu how to move directly to speak to a representative so customers are not stuck in a frustrating do loop of automation frustration.   Offer chat with an ability to convert to phone and pick up where the chat left off so the customer does not have to re-explain on an already frustrating situation.   

Keep the customer inspiration AND remove the customer perspiration!

Mark Wilkinson's picture
Mark Wilkinson on Jul 12, 2022

Thanks for the post.  Getting to zero calls can be a very dangerous goal for utilities, as so many customers will still demand to talk to someone when their temperature is high or the stakes of the issue get big. We'll always need voice channels to customers, but we can't afford not to do the digital self-service that so many brands have excelled at either automating or making so intuitive that customers naturally prefer them.  And, giving customers choice to hop from one channel to another if they need more help just makes good sense.


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