The mandate to improve customer experience: Lessons from the utility industry

by: Ben Snyder Jack Winter, Tricia Anklan and Carolyn Sarb

A few years ago, you wouldn’t find the words “customer experience” and “utilities” in the same sentence. Why would a utility care about improving customer service or increasing customer engagement? Spending money to improve either of those doesn’t encourage customers to use more water, electricity, or gas.

That’s changed. Today, more and more utilities are increasing their emphasis on customer experience and investing millions of dollars to drive improvement. Why the about-face? It stems from increased customer expectations and a shift in power to the consumer. If the customer expects a better experience, then forward-thinking and innovative organizations will strive to meet or exceed those expectations. Yet, this is proving to be a difficult shift for utilities.

Every day, our professionals in the field see how this once operationally focused industry is adapting to changing expectations and paying greater attention to its customers. Several have shared their views and observations in recent blogs:

Inherent barriers to customer service success. Utilities struggle to meet customer service success and fail to meet standards set in other industries. Why? Most utilities traditionally have treated customer service as a necessary evil to the “real” job of the organization: managing the assets to deliver reliable, high-quality energy.  Asset management programs involve objective and quantifiable analysis – assets are tangible objects without feelings, and problem management is based on empirical results. Assets can be treated the same without distinct agendas and personalities, and they provide a clear ROI where customers do not. This creates inherent barriers to customer service success. Read more.

Utilities and customer engagement: An unorthodox marriage. Utilities can justify the business case for improving customer service to meet changing customer expectation in several ways:

  1. Customers have a great deal of political influence. Utilities are closely tied to politics, and in many cases, receive funding from public funds.
  2. Happy customers translate to happy employees, and this impacts employee retention. Turnover can be significant – sometimes upwards of 40 percent per year. With cost of hiring and training a new employee ranging from $5,000 – $10,000, the business case for better customer service adds up quickly.
  3.  Customers want to serve themselves… and it only makes sense that a utility should enable them to do so. The shift towards self-service provides the mutual benefit of satisfying the customer and eliminating work for the utility.

Read more.

Terminating water in Detroit: Poor business practices lead to human rights allegations. By attempting to recapture revenue by terminating access to water, the Detroit Water and Sewage Department has learned firsthand why customer impact should be forethought in key decisions. We use their lesson as an opportunity to uncover credit and collections best practices. These best practices include partnering with social agencies to assist customers with delinquent payments, collecting and maintaining valid customer data for accurate billing, and improving the payment process so the customer has several easy-to-pay options. Read more.

Keeping up with the Joneses: Can your utility meet customer payment expectations? Receiving payment is obviously important to a utility. For its customers, the “best” experience simply involves spending minimal time and/or effort interacting with the utility. Each payment type has a processing cost to the utility – and some come at a hefty price that can affect the bottom line. Utilities need to look at their payment trends and urge customers to adopt payment methods that both lower costs and require minimal customer effort. Read more.

3 Best Practices for Managing Calls Driven From Other Departments. A utility contact center must answer calls that stem from issues in other areas of the business. A customer’s bill is wrong, the servicer didn’t show up on time, the servicer didn’t fix the issue, and so on. By implementing these three simple best practices, utilities can better manage the calls driven by other departments’ actions:

  1. Root cause analysis will identify the reason that you are receiving these calls
  2. Cross-functional collaboration will result in optimized processes to reduce these calls
  3. Agent empowerment and accountability will equip your agents to handle the calls that they do receive.

Don’t let your agents be a victim of issues in other departments; help them by minimizing these calls and better enabling them to manage the calls they do receive to create a positive customer experience. Read more.

These are just a few observations from our people—in one industry. Other industries are going through similar transformation and have similar customer experience issues.  

The short answer here is: Businesses face a new mandate to improve their operations on customers’ terms.  What better way than to focus on customer experience!

For more information, please contact Ben Snyder, Jack Winter, Tricia Anklan or Carolyn Sarb.

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