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Welcome Mark Wilkinson, New Expert in the Customer Care Community- [an Energy Central Power Perspectives™ Expert Interview]

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Matt Chester's picture
Energy Analyst Chester Energy and Policy

Official Energy Central Community Manager of Generation and Energy Management Networks. Matt is an energy analyst in Orlando FL (by way of Washington DC) working as an independent energy...

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  • Jun 16, 2021 12:00 pm GMT
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Looking across the landscape, it’s hard to imagine that any sector is going through as many comprehensive and rapid changes as the utility industry. While that might be hard to believe as the digital age is bringing about new industries that were never even dreamed of previously, that same digitalization is hitting utilities in a very impactful way. Combine that trend with a focus on converting to clean energy, increasingly distributed generation resources, the importance of reliability and affordability becoming absolutely undeniable, and it’s clear that these long-overdue evolutions to utilities will be continuing for years to come. And for the utility professionals who deal directly with customers, that means that the utility-customer dynamic is becoming newly exciting and innovative in a way it never has before.

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Tracking the change from customers who touched base with their utility just once per month to pay the bill to an arrangement where there are apps, emails, web portals, and social media platforms from the utility, where customers likely have smart devices in their home connected directly to their utility, and where utility and end consumer alike are collaborating to ensure energy use is efficient and optimized can be a full-time job itself. That’s why we look to subject matter experts and thought leaders to keep tabs on the fast pace of change for us—and that’s exactly what Mark Wilkinson, Senior Vice President of Products at Ibex Digital, is doing for the Energy Central Community.

As the latest member to join our Network of Experts, specifically focused on the Customer Care Community, Mark will be providing the community with an inside view of the new digital tools transforming utilities, the best practices utilities should be utilizing to make best use of these newfound solutions, and general impressions of industry trends. Mark leads the Ibex teams that deliver Customer Engagement, Voice of the Customer, and Marketplace solutions for utilities, but to introduce him to the Energy Central community he was gracious enough to sit down and  answer some questions as a part of the Energy Central Power Perspective ‘Welcome New Expert Interview Series.’

 

 

 

Matt Chester: One of the reasons we love doing these interviews is it gives us the ability to introduce you and your expertise to our community so they know where and when to look for your expertise. So I’ll give you the floor to do just that: what is your background in the energy industry and what do you do today?

Mark Wilkinson: I’ve been involved in digital transformation and customer engagement in various forms since 2003, but started working with utilities around 2006 on customer service projects.  I learned quickly how the natural constraints of that industry had slowed the pace of digital engagement.  Even in those early days of residential internet access, it was clear that customer expectations were going to accelerate, and utilities would be challenged by regulatory environments, legacy infrastructure, security concerns, etc.

By 2010, those trends were clear and moving even faster as brands like Amazon, Apple, and Google increasingly drove customers to expect more communication and more digital self-service from their service providers. From my perspective, the legacy vendors for utility customer engagement seemed stuck in the voice world and hadn’t embraced ecommerce effectively.

Today, I lead the teams at ibex that deliver our utility ecosystem components.  Ibex works with our clients across the entire customer lifecycle, and we felt that our platforms could help utilities from that critical first experience throughout a long-term digital journey.  I work every day with utilities to connect online and in the inboxes of their customers, as well as keep a pulse on social media and social reputation. Lately, we’ve been solving the e-commerce challenges facing utilities.  It’s great to have a marketplace, but unless the design matches customer expectations and they find a reason to return, most utility markets underperform. We’ve recently launched a new modern marketplace with a wider array of products and services that keep utilities competitive in e-commerce and offer dynamic catalogs to bring customers back to the site for new content and deals.  Most days see me and my teams pretty busy!

 

 

MC: You’ve been involved with the world of utility customer service for 15+ years, and as we know the customer experience has changed a lot in that time. What evolution do you think has been most beneficial for the customer?

MW: It’s really hard to discount the revolutionary change that having a computer in your hand offers.  Think about connecting with a service provider or utility in 2003, before the iPhone. Customers had to find their paper bill for an account number, look up the phone number on AOL or the White Pages, and call in for virtually any question. Maybe they encountered a rudimentary IVR, but almost always had to wait on hold and ask questions of an operator. 

Today, customers have smart phones in their hands so that they can instantly check a website for billing and payment status, or get outage alerts and updates via text message, and even do most enrollment and account change activity with a few clicks and swipes.  Smartphones fundamentally changed the customer relationship to be more immediate and urgent because customers have everything at their fingertips and expect an immediate answer to their questions.

 

MC: On the other side, what change in the world of utility customer care has been the most challenging for utilities to endure in the past decade or so? And what teaching points about utility customer care has that presented in a more general sense?

MW: As customers expect more information and function available to them online or on their smart devices, companies have had to transform their customer service operations utterly.  But, like nearly every industry, utilities have struggled to develop an integrated picture of the customer lifecycle, which makes customer care and ultimately customer self-service a special challenge.  When customer information lives on multiple systems apart from one another, getting to a single view of the customer experience is difficult.  When legacy systems that each house a limited view of customer data also can’t talk to one another, building a 360-degree view of the customer presents major challenges. 

The best lesson we can teach from working on these projects across different industries is to have a really central view of the customer journey in real detail, then start bringing the pieces together.  Thankfully, the digital transformation of other industries offers a lot of expert advice and great solutions for utilities to lean on for support.  Start small, be relentless, and automate as much as possible with a keen eye on the customer’s perspective.  Everyone wins in that paradigm.

MC: Looking ahead, what are some of the exciting new ways you and your teams are enabling utilities to become more empowered with customer data? Are there any areas that are flying under the radar but really get you excited? 

MW: I’m getting more and more interested about leveraging customer insights to personalize the utility experience.  Most utilities have some form of segmentation about their customer base, which can be used to create personas and customize a web experience or an email nurture campaign.  But imagine combining segmentation or personas with energy use data, demographic data, information about the customer’s residence, and creating a comprehensive campaign to save customer money, or adopt green power, or cultivate solar wisely.  Now, with that data, utilities can promote on a 1:1 basis to customers, information about good smart home or energy efficiency options, and actually deliver them to a website where customers can enroll in Demand Response programs, buy a smart thermostat to save energy and money, or find the right EV and charging station for their situation, and get a quote and install scheduled.  That level of personalization and relevance is already employed by other industries, and is starting to materialize for utilities. 

As far as the stuff flying under the radar, I’m excited about AI and voice automation.  Wouldn’t it be cool to as your virtual assistance for recommendations on saving money on my gas or electric bill, and empower a utility to engage automatically thorough that device?  AI through voice assistants will be a channel of choice for customers in the future.

 

 

MC: Professionally speaking, what’s been the most rewarding project you’ve been involved with?

MW: For me, the most rewarding projects involve our discovery and blueprinting process whenever we have a new client or a new client initiative.  Facilitating those discovery sessions, developing customer journey maps, and identifying the customer experience utilities want for the customer at different milestones always gets the teams aligned and defines their purpose.  Those meetings give everyone a chance to really dive deep into the customer experience goals, and that’s usually the best place to begin.

 

MC: As an expert on Energy Central, we’re definitely looking forward to the insights you’re going to be able to bring. Can you share what community members look forward to you bringing to the table as our newest expert?

MW: I’m looking forward to participating in the community to learn a lot, first and foremost.  My vantage point from ibex and having a chance to work with really customer-obsessed brands gives me insights and access to best practices from other regulated industries that can be useful to the community.  I like to dig into research and deliberate on some of the emerging tech and programs that utility practitioners employ, so I’m also looking forward to contributing some new content in those areas with a new perspective. 

 

MC: What’s driving now you, what’s keeping you focused on the future?

MW: On my podcasts and webinars, I’ve been asking guests what they most look forward to as the world moves towards The Next Normal. I’m amazed at the resilience of the utility workforce tackling challenges related to COVID, shifting to remote work, and still keeping customers at the center of their business.  So, after more than a year, I’m looking forward to getting back on the floor with our clients and celebrating the end of a tough year and making plans for next year.  Hopefully, we all can find a bit of celebrating this year!

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Thanks to Mark Wilkinson for joining me for this interview and for providing a wealth of insights an expertise to the Energy Central Community. You can trust that Mark will be available for you to reach out and connect, ask questions, and more as an Energy Central member, so be sure to make him feel welcome when you see him across the platform.

The other expert interviews that we’ve completed in this series can be read here, and if you are interested in becoming an expert then you can reach out to me or you can apply here.

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Tim Gwin's picture
Tim Gwin on Jun 16, 2021

Excellent interview with a seasoned utility expert providing a broader set of CX solutions.  The insight into data and implementing increased engagment in digital channels is spot on!

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