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Creating a customer-centric utility

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The power and utility (P&U) sector is transforming — and the customer is right at the center of these changes.

Today’s “know it all, want it all” customers demand far more from utilities. They expect better and more services, transparent and competitive pricing and the power to control their own transactions and engage with their provider.

Meeting these needs is a significant challenge for an industry that has traditionally struggled with customer satisfaction levels. However, it is one that utility companies must meet, or risk losing out to in-sector competitors or new market entrants from non-traditional sectors.

As customers get more choices for energy and ancillary services, driving value and profit through customer reach will become critical to the long-term success of utilities.

The utilities that are out-performing competitors are those that are already doing more to deliver added value to customers and strengthen their market position. What are the key customer-centric strategies of high-performing utilities (HPs), and how can they be adopted?

High performing utilities put customer relationships first

What is a high performing utility?

High performing utilities take charge of their own destiny and are first to respond when this industry changes. The way that HPs have been pursuing the current customer transformation has created opportunities for them to grow beyond their traditional markets. In response to the challenges of the empowered energy customer, HPs are taking distinctive action.

Customer centricity is driving the agenda of the highest performing utilities around the globe. These HPs know that putting the customer first is critical to their success in meeting current industry challenges.

HPs are investing heavily in customer-focused programs that aim to differentiate them from their competitors and best position them to successfully address the multitude of changes that are impacting the customer.

HPs are broadening their customer reach in three ways:

  1. Resetting the customer experience
  2. Innovating to broaden customer reach
  3. Exploring the value of data and technology

1. Resetting the customer experience

Resetting the customer experience is about first building trust and then seeking excellence in customer service.

A March 2013 EY survey revealed that just one-fifth of customers trust their utility provider. 1 Unless this figure can be improved, utilities will struggle to broaden their relationship with customers beyond the delivery of basic utility service.

They must focus on getting the basics right before extending their customer reach into new, non-traditional services, customers and markets.

HPs are heeding the call to action to win back customer trust and start on a journey toward achieving customer excellence. While this journey will vary depending on each utility, its market and its goals, at its core it will require:

  • Simplifying transactions
  • Anticipating the customer
  • Championing self-service
  • Collaborating and co-creating by encouraging customer feedback and participation in problem resolution
  • Analyzing customer data
  • Differentiating customer service

2. Innovating to broaden customer reach

Technology has dramatically changed customer needs. Empowered by the 24-hour connectivity of the internet and the speed, ease and mobility of hand-held devices and the information provided by smart meters, customers have more knowledge than ever.

They are demanding new services such as telehealth, security, energy management technologies and the ability to monitor smart appliances remotely.

Utilities are the best-placed, both technically and in terms of capacity, to capitalize on these opportunities. They must do so if they are to move beyond energy supply and ensure their long-term survival by serving the additional needs of their customers before in-sector and new market entrants step in to fill the gap.

HPs are focusing on growing value for the customer by:

  • Understanding who these empowered customers are and what they want and value
  • Tailoring services and their delivery to individual customers
  • Innovating to develop new products and services to meet new customer demands in advance of competitors

3. Exploring the value of data and technology

Better use of data is crucial to understand and address the needs of today’s customers.

Utilities already have huge volumes of available data and will soon have more as the global rollout of smart meters gathers pace. However, it is the accuracy, accessibility and ability to interpret this data that will determine how quickly and successfully companies can bring to market the solutions, products and services customers want.

Utilities already hold valuable data regarding:

  • Customer interaction, including billing, contact history and consumption
  • Household information, including address, income and type of dwelling
  • Behavior patterns, including time spent at home, appliances installed and energy performance

HPs are now taking steps to master this data to identify the new services most likely to address the emerging needs of current and potential customers in different markets. This data can also be used to drive performance and service improvement throughout the enterprise.

HPs are focusing first on ensuring the integrity and security of their data, then directing efforts to using data to improve communication with customers.

1 Source: Richard Postance, “Trust: the energy industry at a crossroads…,” The Raconteur, 1 May 2013.