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Trends for 2022: Digital Innovation, Revenue Enhancements and Operational Improvements

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Mark Wilkinson's picture
SVP Products Ibex Digital

Helping utilities and their customer experience teams transform customer journeys,  decode customer insights  and enhance revenues for nearly 15 years.  At Ibex, I lead the teams delivering...

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  • Jan 25, 2022

This item is part of the Power Industry 2022 Trends & Predictions - January 2022 SPECIAL ISSUE, click here for more

Trends for 2022

Utilities faced unprecedented headwinds during COVID, from shifting their entire workforce to remote or hybrid operations to the impact of social distancing and safety measures on physical operations and to government mandates that continue to create uncertainty and disrupt budgets and planning.  Despite the Omicron surge, we have hope that 2022 offers us all a return to a semblance of normal.   Here's a look at a few of the trends we expect to amplify for Utilities in 2022.

Beyond the Meter Programs

We saw a significant increase in webinars, white papers, and discovery calls with clients on the topic of Beyond the Meter in late 2021, so we expect more utilities to keep a high priority on these programs this year. 

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Beyond the Meter programs create a great way for Utilities to offer their customers new products and services that add value to their homes and bring the utility fully into customers' smart home interests.  Customers generally find great value in these high-CSAT programs, and success with BTM becomes a great mechanism for even more engagement throughout the customer lifecycle.   Happy BTM customers tend to be a utility's biggest promoters.

Best of all, BTM programs create substantial revenue to ease budget shortfalls or fund new projects and programs.  With all of the budget disruption last year due to COVID pressures, we think utilities can find a valuable funding mechanism in the right BTM programs and delight their customers in 2022.

Digital Self Service

I noticed a lot of press in 2021 related to Go To Zero (GTZ) programs as budget pressures increased and utilities looked to Customer Service and Customer Operations costs as a way to save money.    On the surface, GTZ goals make sense - getting to zero calls dramatically reduces operating budgets and presumably solves a lot of customer issues without forcing a conversation with a customer service representative.  Utilities have a tremendous opportunity to increase digital self-service on their websites, making customer calls unnecessary for most support issues.

In practice, however, GTZ programs hide a lot of peril.  If achieving zero calls becomes the primary KPI, we risk creating a process that may reduce calls but actually increases customer "rage metrics" and drive more unsatisfactory experiences. 

We're a fan of GTZ goals that strive to get to zero unwarranted calls, where customers can complete the majority of their primary expectations through self-service on the website, and only have to call for help with critical items or unusual situations that require the help of a trained specialist.  Unfortunately, we don’t find an abundance of companies who've done successful work with GTZ, so helpful playbooks remain in short supply. 

Intelligent digital self-service means enabling a website that customers can use intuitively and easily to accomplish their goals.  And, when customer behavior on the site indicates points of frustration, Intelligent Self Service should shift to effective transition to live support via chat, SMS or a call to a trained specialist that can solve the customer's issue without further obstacles.  We recommend utilities to find partners with experience in non-voice engagements and customer journey work to optimize the digital lifecycle with as much care as Utilities have focused historically on their legacy customer support programs.  It's a worthy investment for 2022 that will save money and improve CSAT for years to come. 

Marketplaces that Fund Themselves

Too many utilities invested over the past decade in marketplaces for their customers that fail to achieve "escape velocity," fail to earn enough sales to offset the cost of operation or turn a profit.  Those sites generally offer a limited product catalog without options for all of a utility's customers and fail to engage customers to build awareness and drive the traffic required for sustainable operations.   Most marketplaces remain hard to find, have a catalog restricted to energy efficiency goods that don't appeal to all customer segments, and deliver little if any content to their customers or special offers to increase traffic to the site.

A successful marketplace depends on knowing the customer and reaching them with personalized, relevant and timely offers that bring them to a destination website with plenty of products and services that they consider valuable enough to purchase.  And consistent success means nurturing those customer relationships to maintain strong awareness of your marketplace and keep customers coming back for more.   Success is less about "build it and they will come" and much more about keeping the customer's perspective at the center of that business. 

Successful programs deliver personalized emails with interesting content to their customers in-boxes and special offers that trigger a visit to the website. Those visits deliver a modern and intuitive eCommerce experience that customers trust to make a purchase with confidence right on the site.   That's a recipe for tremendous innovation in the digital experience that pays dividends across the entire enterprise.  Best of all, happy customers tend to share their experiences with their social circles, bringing more traffic and sales to the marketplace.  We think every utility can build a compelling digital marketplace that serves all of their customers and funds itself as it improves customer engagement and CSAT.


Linda Stevens's picture
Linda Stevens on Jan 27, 2022

I really like the point about the risks of having a goal to get zero calls. It does feel like companies are making it so difficult to actually get to a person that you eventually give up. 

"In practice, however, GTZ programs hide a lot of peril.  If achieving zero calls becomes the primary KPI, we risk creating a process that may reduce calls but actually increases customer "rage metrics" and drive more unsatisfactory experiences. "

Mark Wilkinson's picture
Mark Wilkinson on Jan 28, 2022


Thanks for your comment, and I couldn't agree with you more.  GTZ programs should really be about moving more customers to digital effectiveness, not just moving to zero calls.  Done well, GTZ programs really try to inhabit the customer perspective and make digital alternatives to their calls easier and more effective for the customer.   Unfortunately, we all have experience trying to use customer service website features that result in a much more agitated call to a call center when we can't do what we wanted to on the provider's website.  We think blending a lot of mobile friendly self-service features on the website with a thoughtful and customer friendly IVR for "push # for" style self service can greatly improve the customer experience, but only if done with the customer perspective in mind from the start.   

Paul Korzeniowski's picture
Paul Korzeniowski on Feb 7, 2022

This viewpoint change corresponds to a shift in thinking. Traditionally, utilities, as well as other companies, follows a manufacturing model where they tried to either boost sales or reduce costs. Customer service was viewed as an expense, and they wanted to get that cost as low as possible, hence the emphasis on zero calls. Recently, businesses recognized that such an approach often turned customer off. As many as 1/3 of loyal customers will switch suppliers after one bad customer experience, so you need to pick up the phone. Now, a growing number of corporations are looking at customer service as a way to tighten their connections to consumers rather than a necessary expense. 

Mark Wilkinson's picture
Mark Wilkinson on Feb 8, 2022

Paul - agree completely.   I just completed a session discussing some of the effects of rising customer expectations on the utility industry.  By being somewhat insulated from competition, Utilities didn't have the same pressure on customer service as a competitive advantage, which really accelerated customer expectations on superior services.  Unfortunately, that insulation left utilities a bit behind adapting to a much higher "floor" for the customer experience.  We talk a lot about using technology to get ahead of the curve, but successful playbooks are in short supply.  As you indicated, that one bad experience can be a real burden to stay connected with customers, and only a few brands demonstrate the really successful models to emulate.  Thanks for your comments.

Mark Wilkinson's picture
Thank Mark for the Post!
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