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What Do Utility Customers Really Want?

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Karen Marcus's picture
Freelance Energy and Technology Researcher and Writer Final Draft Communications, LLC

Karen Marcus has 25 years of experience as a content developer within the energy and technology industries. She has worked with well-known companies, providing direction, research, writing, and...

  • Member since 2017
  • 416 items added with 364,110 views
  • Jul 8, 2019

As utilities take steps to modernize their operations, it’s important to understand what customers really want in the most common interactions. Clearly technology can provide much of what customers are looking for, but that’s not the only factor. Taking cues from the other types of businesses they regularly deal with, customers are looking for certain interaction attributes for customer care, outage response, and energy tracking with their utility.

Customer Care

The key attribute for company communications is availability, which plays out in multiple ways.

  • Help must be accessible 24/7. Whether through a customer care center with agents available around the clock, an online interface, or a combination of the two, customers must be able to access assistance any time they need it.
  • That help must be available through multiple sources that customers have access to. Each customer has their own preferred communication methods and, ideally, utilities should provide access to all of them. In an age of so many technological solutions, none of which may be the right answer for some customers, that includes the option to talk to a real person.
  • The help must be, well, helpful. The last thing customers want, for example, is an infuriating circle of instructions to access the website if they’re calling on the phone, and to call on the phone if they can’t find what they need on the website. Utilities, like other companies, should adopt an “it’s my problem now” approach, similar to some internet providers, to helping customers find solutions.

Outage Response

The primary function of a power company is to keep the power on. When it’s not, customers want to know why and when it will be back. Utilities will gain appreciation and loyalty when they’re transparent about what’s happening.

  • It must be prompt. Outage information, even if incomplete, should be prompt, similar to how a bank might immediately issue a press release admitting a company data breach. That means sending messages and alerts as soon as the utility knows there are or will be outages.
  • It must be two-way. Customers need to be able to report outages just as easily as they receive outage alerts. Apps, online interfaces, and dedicated phone numbers are all good tools to create two-way communications.
  • It must be consistent. Regular updates throughout an emergency should follow the initial alert. Again, customers are interested in what the utility knows, even if it’s not exactly what they want to hear (such as how many crews have been deployed, even if it’s not yet possible to predict a completion time).  

Energy Tracking

Utility customers love tracking their own energy use. The following attributes can help them love the methods used to do it even more.

  • It must be easily accessible. Smart thermostats – great. Like a retailer’s shopping app, a phone app that allows customers to adjust them from anywhere in the house – even better.
  • It must be comprehensive. The more functions customers can operate using a phone app, for example, the better. Actions might include turning on or off specific lights or appliances, setting automatic temperatures, and checking monthly energy use.
  • It must be promoted. None of these solutions are any good if customers don’t know they’re available. Utilities should launch a campaign to spread the word and help customers get started with these tools.

In an environment in which customer needs are increasingly being put at the center of business operations, utilities must strive to compete. Some solutions will involve technology, and others will involve the way that technology is used. The key isn’t always modernization for its own sake, but to keep up with customers’ evolving expectations.

What have your customers told you about what they want? Please share in the comments.


Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Jul 8, 2019

Utility customers love tracking their own energy use

I know I'm particularly 'into' energy, but I truly believe this one. If you create data and tracking and make it accessible and rewarding on a psychological level (as well as energy/money level), then people will quickly gamify it. Think about what Fitbit did for fitness data-- I think there's room for utility companies to do the same sort of thing for energy data that will tap into something that really excites people. 

Karen Marcus's picture
Karen Marcus on Jul 9, 2019

Excellent point, Matt. Why not go beyond making it useful and accessible to making it fun! 

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