Why Your Future is a Customer Centric Utility Enterprise

Posted to Appos Advisors in the Utility Management Group
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Vanessa Edmonds's picture
Executive Director & Advisor, Utility 2030 Collaborative & Appos Advisors

Transformation strategist, speaker, and writer who pursues solutions to help utility leaders reinvent the customer experience. Honored to be leading people-centered utility transformation...

  • Member since 2014
  • 53 items added with 54,649 views
  • Sep 24, 2020

The utility business model has traditionally focused on providing safe, reliable, and affordable electricity, natural gas, and clean water, and accurately billing customers for what they use. While this is no small feat, it is all that customers expected of their utility provider.

Now the industry is buzzing with talk about “the utility of the future” because—to survive and thrive—utility companies need to look quite different tomorrow than they do today.

It all started when customer-centric companies like Costco, Amazon, Chick-fil-A, Harley-Davidson, and Ritz-Carlton started giving your utility customers experiences flying high with information, choice, control, and ease of use. These companies put the interests of their end-users at the forefront of every business decision and made it not just easy, but enjoyable to do business with them. Now customers expect the same from you.

Here are seven really good reasons to give them what they want:

  1. Customer Satisfaction Counts. Your customers want you to give them the same level of service that customer-obsessed companies serving up. Giving it to them increases customer satisfaction and happy customers are good for business.
  2. You Want to Win Rate Cases, Right? Utility companies with happy customers are more likely to be received favorably by public utilities commissions, especially when rate cases arise, and when you seek allowable expenses.
  3. Churn Hurts. Utilities in North America are facing the rise of competitors—even in the regulated space (i.e. community choice aggregators).
  4. There are New Ways to Delight and Make Money. Companies in other spaces are offering your customers products and services that are a natural fit for utilities, would increase your value and stickiness with them, and could even generate new revenue for you (i.e. home energy management tools, home warranties, solar panels, vehicle charging accessories, etc.).
  5. Customers Can Help Deliver Clean Energy Goals. Aggressive clean energy goals and the scarcity of resources are generating new regulation and the proliferation of renewable resources. Giving customers the information and tools to choose renewables will help your company reach its renewables goals.
  6. Field Crews are the New Face of Utilities. As energy consumers become energy producers, and self-service technologies are reducing conversations with phone reps, field crews are becoming the face of your company and need to have the training and tools to charm customers.

“Utilities can no longer afford to have strictly transactional relationships with customers that start and end with the monthly bill,” explains Dave Reim, president and CEO of Questline. “Customer satisfaction is the result of a continuous, long-term effort to engage with customers on their terms and address their needs and interests with every interaction.”

“Today it (customer centricity) is one of the biggest competitive advantages a company can have,” writes customer experience expert Blake Morgan in the Forbes article, The 10 Most Customer-Obsessed Companies of 2019. “Instead of competing on price, more than two-thirds of companies now compete mostly on the basis of customer experience.”

This is a large percentage that is only going to increase as companies get better at customer centricity. Don't stand by and watch as competitors in other industries develop strong relationships with your customers. The time to start building the customer centric utility enterprise is now.

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Sep 24, 2020

Customer Satisfaction Counts. Your customers want you to give them the same level of service that customer-obsessed companies serving up. Giving it to them increases customer satisfaction and happy customers are good for business.

Of course no utility wants to have a reputation for bad customer service, but I think for utilities where there aren't other options for customers, sometimes the business incentive can be muddied as there's no threat of "fix this issue or I'm going to your competitor" like in other businesses. So it's good to see some of the more soft or less obvious benefits-- it's still in the best interest to be a customer-focused industry. And as customers become more partners in the distributed, flexible grid of the future, I think this will only get more vital!

Mark Wilkinson's picture
Mark Wilkinson on Sep 28, 2020

Vanessa really nails the challenges and benefits for utilities about delivering customer centric experiences.  We all share customers with other brands who set the course for companies to distinguish themselves with customer centric experiences.  Utilities might not usually face the competitive pressure that those brands encounter daily, but also can't avoid the innovative customer experiences those brands now drive, especially online.  But, study after study demonstrates the benefits of putting the customer at the center of the business, from high CSAT, low issue escalations, strong social advocacy, and for utilities especially, stronger return on equity.  The challenge comes from adapting practices that deliver success to the unique needs of the utility.  Great post.

Benoit Marcoux's picture
Benoit Marcoux on Sep 29, 2020

Great article.

In the context of the energy transition, with expanding electrification of transportation, heat and industrial processes, good customer satisfaction, with corresponding increased in customer engagement, is essential for electric utilities.

Vanessa Edmonds's picture
Thank Vanessa for the Post!
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