- Jun 3, 2020 1:10 pm GMT
This item is part of the Special Issue - 2020-05 - Customer Care, click here for more
One thing we learned during this pandemic is that home isn’t just where the heart is—for many of us it’s also where the office is, not to mention the school and the entertainment center.
And it could be that way for a long time.
In May, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg said during a video conference call that up to one-half of the company’s employees could work permanently from their homes. But in an ironic reminder that a few bugs still need to be worked out, his livestream crashed, ending the call.
More broadly, Global Workplace Analytics estimates that more than three-quarters of the workforce want to continue working from home at least once a week when the pandemic is over.
This seismic shift from business office to home office makes it even more critical for utility services—electricity, natural gas, water and communications—to be available and delivered at the highest levels of reliability. Achieving this presents utilities not only with an opportunity to delight their customers with dependable service, but also to strengthen the personal relationship by offering services through utility marketplaces.
According to Chartwell, around 30% of U.S. utilities offer a marketplace site, where customers buy a range of energy efficient products including LED light bulbs, smart thermostats, appliances, electronics and even electric vehicle chargers. A study from Uplight, formerly Simple Energy, found that consumer interest in such sites is remarkably high: fully 80% of customers said they were interested in using an online utility marketplace.
Online commerce is nothing new, but it has exploded due the pandemic, becoming a core component of the home-centric experience. Utilities stand to gain more than just revenue when their customers use an online marketplace. Uplight found that customers who use a utility marketplace are 50% more likely to think of the provider as a trusted advisor. Equally positive, overall customer engagement rose by 13%.
The time is ripe and the upside exists for utilities to ramp up their efforts to enhance customer relationships by offering a range of products and services.
One such service is the home warranty program. Such utility-based programs have been around since the late 1980s, protecting homeowners and their budgets from the high cost of unexpected home repairs. Many well-known utilities--including Nicor, Duke, NiSource, Dominion, OUC, First Energy, DTE and AEP--have offered successful home warranty programs.
Homeowners subscribe to these programs for a variety of reasons, but the most important one is to protect themselves from unexpected and possibly costly repairs. Homeowners also enjoy the convenience of 24-hour access to a network of reliable local repair technicians. From the utility’s point of view, home warranty programs also help to ensure that service lines and appliances are properly maintained and inspected on a regular basis. This supports a mission-critical utility function, namely, ensuring safe and reliable service.
Today’s home warranties have grown in scope beyond covering just gas, electric, sewer and water lines, appliances and HVAC. New offerings are well-tuned to our home-centric lifestyles and include virtual surge protection and programs that cover devices like smart phones, tablets, computers, televisions and audio systems. What’s more, utility marketplaces are an effective platform to initiate home warranty purchase decisions, with rates of adoption increasing from 9% to 26%, according to Uplight.
Based on our nearly 30 years of experience as a utility-owned home warranty provider, we know that anywhere from 20% to 45% of a utility’s customer base will make the decision to buy a home warranty. With such strong adoption rates, warranty programs can generate a healthy revenue stream.
Beyond that, however, home warranty programs offer utilities a customer touchpoint that can positively impact satisfaction metrics.
For example, a study by Russell Research found that 77% of customers who have a utility-provided home warranty say that they trust their energy provider. That represents a significant increase from the roughly 60% trust response among those who were yet not enrolled in a warranty program.
First, a warranty program’s success depends on the utility’s willingness to promote it. co-branding the program with the utility’s name adds significant value. In addition, including the warranty services as a line item on the utility bill improves adoption rates and enhances customer convenience.
Second, personalized offerings that are based on a customers’ unique circumstances are critical. Consumers increasingly rely on their trusted brands to deliver tailored messages aimed at satisfying their specific needs at just the right time. Similarly, the “move call,” when a customer either starts or transfers utility service, offers another touchpoint between the company and its customer. This customer-initiated call is one of the most effective times to recommend home warranty offerings.
To keep up with increasing competition and customer demands for personalized services and offerings, utilities must become solution providers, not just energy providers. Partnering with a highly regarded home warranty partner allows utilities to become that trusted partner, increasing customer satisfaction, loyalty and retention, and generating a potentially significant revenue stream.
About The Author: Rob Gilpin is the Director of Business Development for American Water Homeowner Services, a division of American Water, the largest publicly traded water and wastewater provider in the United States. He can be reached at Robert.Gilpin@AmWater.com
American Water Homeowner Services has been providing home warranty programs within the utility industry since 1992.
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