Insight and focus conquers all things—even a utility's customer experience

The energy and utilities industry faces new opportunities and challenges in managing customer relationships. These changes, coupled with evolving customer expectations, have led to new opportunities to provide customers with new information and services that enable experience-driven interaction—in contrast to the traditional limited, transactional relationship.

Enabling and motivating consumers to be aware of and manage their energy consumption is critical to utilities’ future success. To that end, utilities must provide customers with tools to help them engage in energy management and understand changes to their services going forward. A positive customer experience is grounded in a deep understanding of the customer so that tools, incentives, and programs directly and intuitively meet customer needs.

Creating momentum by understanding the customer.
Building awareness and creating foundational relationships to support future program deployment begins with one critical thing—a complete understanding of your customers. A good starting point is leveraging secondary research to create general customer segments and outline their corresponding basic needs, values, and behaviors. Focusing on these key segments allows your utility to create targeted messages and deliver them through the most effective channels for a particular stakeholder group.

The next step involves planning more personal connections with your customers. With deeper information about customers’ behaviors, preferences, and needs, you can create customer “journey maps” that help you understand how these needs, behaviors and preferences currently are being met and what gaps you will need to address in the future. Journey mapping helps create an outline for a future strategy and enables successful customer engagement.

At the same time, you should not overlook internal stakeholders; internal employee education and awareness also has a measureable effect on customer relationships. Employees are responsible not only for executing the customer-centric strategy, but also for acting as the strategy’s ongoing advocate.

Accelerating the experience through personalization and differentiation.
Once you have outlined customer segments and a clear customer journey, you can create tactical messaging to further personalize each segment’s experiences at the critical touch points in the journey. When defining customer interactions during the processes of customer service, bill review, or payment, follow three simple rules:

  • Be simple but impactful – Concise, straightforward messaging to customers enables them to process complex ideas quickly and strikes a chord with their beliefs and values
  • Multi-channel “call to action” – Information should be consistent and available through traditional (phone, call center, printed materials, events) and emerging (online, mobile, social media) channels
  • Staged messaging – Customers should be exposed to a gradual flow of messaging that is planned and released over the course of months to moderate information complexity

Consider this example. One customer segment includes of young professionals in the 24-35 age group. These individuals are busy during normal working hours and may be more effectively engaged through online and mobile channels via regular energy alerts delivered over the course of a month. Additionally, messages focused on cost saving and environmental benefits would resonate most with this segment.

Conquering customer experience.
To foster customer goodwill and reach the eventual goal of effective demand side management, utilities should always strive to improve customer experience. There is a great deal of opportunity to strengthen channels and messaging through an ongoing understanding of customer expectations. Researching these expectations and acting upon the gaps revealed is the most effective strategy to enable an effective customer experience.

Persistence in defining customer segments, mapping the customer journey, and enhancing interaction opportunities will lead to an uptick in customer engagement and resultant changes in customer behavior—both critical elements for meeting future business goals.

For more information about customer experience in the energy and utilities industry, contact Dave Tilson at dtilson@westmonroepartners.com.

West Monroe Insights
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