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Why Utility Marketplaces Matter: eCommerce as a CX Incubator

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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...

  • Member since 2019
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  • Jan 5, 2022
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Why should a utility consider a marketplace for their customers in 2022?  And, why should utilities with prior investments in utility marketplaces consider revamping them in 2022? After all, most of the current marketplaces don't reach "escape velocity" of transaction volumes that make those sites self-funding.

Consider that a successful marketplace measured by the common standards of eCommerce finds a way to:

  • connect with their customers
  • develop traffic to the site
  • offer content and offers of interest to their customers
  • stay in touch with customers to drive repeat visits to the site
  • resulting in sales when customers find value in the offers on the marketplace

Sales, in this case, is just the end result of a lot of other important activities for a successful marketplace.  

Marketplaces that work demonstrate to their customers that the utility understands the customers' perspective.  Multiple perspectives, actually, since a customer base actually behaves more like a lot of different and often changing smaller customer groups or personas.  And, demonstrating that affinity for the customer perspective means that utilities have a grasp of those different groups and topics that interest them.

Developing traffic to a marketplace means that the utility earned success in multiple engagement channels attracting the attention and interest of their customers, and bringing those customers into a destination website experience.  Solid and steady marketplace traffic results only from a comprehensive program of personalized, relevant and timely outreach to customers in their channel of choice, so utilities with successful marketplaces becomes masters of email, display, social media, video and print depending on content and customer preferences.  No "one size fits all" approach works in eCommerce.

Successful marketplaces offer something for virtually everyone, so they include a variety of products and services well beyond energy efficiency. Marketplaces selling mostly programmable thermostats and LED bulb kits don't offer a catalog that appeals to every customer.  Can your renters even buy and install a smart thermostat?  Customers don't need a lot of bulbs that last 10-15 years, do they?  Do these customers have a reason to return to your website?  Successful marketplaces offer a range of products AND services, even access to contractor networks,  at different price points to be sure that all of their customers can find something of value when they have a need.

But most customers don't buy from a new marketplace on their first visit. It can take three, four, even five visits before customers make their first purchase, so successful utility marketplaces find a way to keep in touch with customers and nurture their interests to develop repeat traffic.  That means those utilities found a way to use multi-part campaigns, compelling content, and timely offers to increase customer awareness and trigger "clicks" at just the right time.

Sales result from success in that chain of events that puts a personalized and relevant offer in front of customer so that they visit a modern and intuitive marketplace where those customers find offers of value and make a purchase.  And once that purchase gets delivered or installed or activated, customers are far more likely to open another email from the utility, or click on a social message on their mobile phone, or share a review on a website like Yelp or Google to bring more traffic and awareness to the utility marketplace.  Happy customers demonstrate success at a series of digital (and legacy) interactions with a brand they trust and value.

So, a successful marketplace becomes a great incubator for a utility interested in innovating their digital customer experience (CX).  And, the lessons learned by developing a successful and self-funding utility marketplace pay dividends across the entire business, from customer education to EE program enrollment to digital self-service capabilities.  Successful marketplaces are worth the investment because of the lessons they teach utilities about how to engage with customers digitally across the entire customer lifecycle.  

That's why we think utility marketplaces deserve a priority at all utilities, and that sales should be an important, but not the most important KPI for those programs.  Sales result from staying focused on each critical step along those digital customer journeys.  Consider a marketplace for 2022 and see where your utility can innovate your digital customer experience.

 

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Jan 5, 2022

And once that purchase gets delivered or installed or activated, customers are far more likely to open another email from the utility, or click on a social message on their mobile phone, or share a review on a website like Yelp or Google to bring more traffic and awareness to the utility marketplace. 

This is a key piece of wisdom that needs to be emphasized. 'Breaking the ice' or 'establishing momentum' is a real thing, and makes those first efforts even more worthwhile in the long run

Mark Wilkinson's picture
Mark Wilkinson on Jan 5, 2022

Matt - we couldn't agree more.  Too often, legacy marketplaces were expected to develop a lot of organic traffic when in fact the technology didn't support indexing for search engines or ways for customers to find the websites easily.  Successful marketplaces make it easy for their happy customers to share the site socially and brag about the great offer or new content or compelling article that helped them get a cool deal.  That's how eCommerce works, and the same lessons could apply to new EV content or a demand response program to enroll in for energy savings and cost reductions.  Lots of lessons to promote across the enterprise.

Christina Corcoran's picture
Christina Corcoran on Jan 8, 2022

Great article Mark. You make an excellent point that, “Successful marketplaces offer something for virtually everyone, so they include a variety of products and services well beyond energy efficiency. Marketplaces selling mostly programmable thermostats and LED bulb kits don't offer a catalog that appeals to every customer.” 

It’s never going to be a one size fits all.  Utilities  have to give customers a reason to keep coming back to the market place and give them the CX that customers have grown to expect.  

Bethany Farchione's picture
Bethany Farchione on Jan 11, 2022

You make a great point - people typically don't buy on their first visit to an e-commerce site. That's why retailers invest in digital remarketing ads, SEO, social media content and influencers, email marketing, etc... Retailers don't expect people to find sites on their own, and neither should utilities. 

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Jan 11, 2022

Is the goal moreso that the second/third time they hear about the site they'll finally relent and visit, or more just establishing 'name recognition' so when the future need arises they have the utility site in the back of their mind? 

Mark Wilkinson's picture
Mark Wilkinson on Jan 17, 2022

Matt - great question, and the evidence suggests a bit of both.  Utilities often look at a marketplace as something with a built in customer base.  In reality, utilities that haven't sold additional goods or services to their customers have to introduce the marketplace as a new brand to them.  New brands take time to build trust with customers before they are inclined to make a purchase.

 

Also, marketplaces should develop regular interest among customers with special offers, new products, and informative content to give customers a reason to stay engaged and return from time to time.  Utility marketplaces need to stay in touch with personalized and relevant content so that they can present offers that customers actually want and take advantage of, not just fill the inbox.  It's a bit about customers considering the utility marketplace when they find a new need.  It's also a way for utilities to demonstrate that they know their customers by sending a relevant offer at just the right time that customers click on to learn more.  That's a bit of "front of mind" experiences that a marketplace can build, too.

Bethany Farchione's picture
Bethany Farchione on Jan 18, 2022

I think it's more about name recognition, or the newer term "demand generation." The goal is to be top of mind when a consumer thinks of a particular need. 

Brian Lindamood's picture
Brian Lindamood on Jan 12, 2022

Great post Mark, thanks for sharing! Utilities can learn a lot from the success other industries have had in eCommerce. An effective marketplace can be the centerpiece of utilities' digital relationship with customers. 

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