The Future of Utility Customer Engagement

image credit: Questline
Maureen Mierke's picture
Marketing Manager Questline Inc.

Marketing Manager at Questline - a digital agency that provides content marketing and program promotion solutions to energy utilities who want to build long-term relationships with their customers.

  • Member since 2021
  • 7 items added with 7,329 views
  • Oct 7, 2021

The term “customer engagement” has been widely used across industries for decades. The manner of engagement, however, has changed dramatically.

What began as information distribution in newspapers changed to engaging TV news viewers and fax messages. Years before the internet was developed, “engagement” was simply a means of distribution.

Now, however, customer engagement is a much more sought-after objective. Engaging with the right customer can lead to the right sale and increased brand loyalty. The means of engaging has drastically changed as well – instead of fax machines and newspapers, we get a news notification on our phone or a bill payment alert from a text.

“Customer engagement is no longer limited to sales, support or services,” according to VWO. “Instead, it’s an ongoing practice of brands anticipating customers’ needs and keeping in touch with them to foster lasting relationships, loyalty, and hence, business growth.”

For energy utilities in particular, customer engagement is a necessary strategy to encourage customer education, increase program conversions and boost brand trust.

The Shift from Rate Payers to Customers

More important than technological changes, however, is how the mindset of customer engagement has transformed for energy utilities. Not too long ago, energy utility customers were simply “rate payers” – with a singular focus on outcomes and not the individual.

Now seeing customers as individuals with unique needs and preferences, energy utilities are building, communicating and delivering services in brand new ways.

Energy utilities also have opportunities to become trusted resources for customers on a wide range of topics including energy efficiency, smart tech, renewables and beneficial electrification. Instead of simply requesting bill payments, utilities can educate customers on these topics and provide tools that bring value to their daily lives.  

According to Accenture’s New Energy Consumer Report, “Moving from commodities (electricity and gas) into the world of connected energy products and services creates a unique opportunity to distinctively reshape and repurpose an energy company’s brand and customer experience, facilitating a shift from traditional utility toward becoming an innovative digital energy service provider.”

Looking Ahead: The Future of Customer Engagement

As energy utilities look to evolve their engagement strategies, being aware of technology advancements and evolving customer expectations is imperative to connecting with customers where they are.

  1. Financial Transparency

While interest in clean energy continues to grow, many customers are still concerned about the financial commitment. Accenture suggests that alternative financing, dubbed “green finance,” could help alleviate these concerns and create more inclusivity for low to medium income customers.

“In these models, the hardware assets are owned by energy companies and provided to consumers via subscription—reducing the upfront capital required to participate,” the report states.

Other financial programs like time-of-use rates are becoming increasingly important for both utilities and customers. Many utilities are beginning to roll out these plans and have focused efforts largely on educating customers, encouraging them to sign up and ensuring customers are satisfied with their plan so your utility doesn’t have to try converting them a second time. 

  1. Technology

Changes in technology can be difficult to predict, but based on Questline’s work, we anticipate chat bots and voice assistants to become more prevalent in the utility space.

“Chat bots will be necessary tools in all channels including email, My Account and social media,” Questline President Dave Reim says. “People want things in real time and chat bots are the answer to this. With their capabilities driven by AI, they are no longer sci-fi fantasies, but instead real-life tactics to engage more with customers and reduce the costs of servicing customers.”

When it comes to voice assistants like Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant, some utilities are already probing the capabilities of this smart tech. With more than 320 million smart speakers in use in 2020, Statista predicts that the number of smart homes worldwide will surpass 350 million by 2023. As voice assistants continues to grow and improve, customers will expect their energy utilities to jump on board and offer this functionality.

E Source shares specific ways energy utilities could use voice assistants, including:

  • Provide energy efficiency tips
  • Allow customers to pay their bill
  • Enroll customers in utility programs
  • Help customers understand their energy use
  • Reduce call center volume
  1. Social Media

With over 3.6 billion people using social media worldwide and a projected 4.4 billion using it by 2025, social media is a clear contender for continued customer engagement. It provides the ability to both disseminate valuable information and take part in social listening to better learn from customers. For energy utilities, this is an important medium to continue investing time and resources into as generations who grew up using the platforms have energy bills of their own.

For example, sharing power outage updates on your utility’s social media platforms is a vital way to communicate with customers. Many people will turn immediately to social media for real-time updates before ever turning to a news channel or website.

Social media also allows your utility to directly communicate with customers as they post questions or comments on your platforms. Answer some questions publicly so other viewers can see your utility responding and, when necessary, take others to a private direct message when they call for account or other sensitive information.

Invest in Customer Engagement

Greater customer engagement can lead to increased program conversions, improved customer satisfaction and deeper brand loyalty and trust. Encourage your utility to continue researching and investing in its customers to provide the best means of engaging. We anticipate financial transparency, voice assistants, chat bots and social media to be imperative tools in the future of utility customer engagement.

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