As consumers lead the way, how can energy providers light the path? As consumers lead the way, how can energy providers light the path?

By Greg Guthridge

EY Global Energy & Resources Customer Experience Transformation Leader

Supporting business transformation by leveraging digital technologies. Driving innovation at speed and placing humans at the center of the dialogue. Outdoor enthusiast, photographer and wanderer.

10 minute read 20 Oct 2021

The rise of the “omnisumer” gives energy providers an opportunity to differentiate by creating a seamless, sophisticated customer experience.

In brief
  • Discussion about the energy transition often focuses on technology, but people are critical to lead the way to a more sustainable world.
  • We surveyed global energy consumers to understand how attitudes are changing and how energy providers can adapt.
  • Six strategic imperatives can drive customer-focused transformation that gives energy providers new opportunities to differentiate and grow.  

A perfect storm of government policy, consumer trends and technology is accelerating the energy transition. But while much of the discussion around this transition centers on renewables technology and infrastructure, people are at its heart. Consumers will lead the energy transition, and energy providers can light the path — by enabling and inspiring consumers to build a more sustainable world, while increasing satisfaction, driving new revenue and reducing costs.

We surveyed 34,000 energy consumers across 17 countries (pdf) to understand their shifting needs, values and expectations alongside consumer engagement. While we found some shortfalls in current experiences, we also identified six key consumer trends offering opportunities for energy providers to improve and differentiate. 

Our research suggests that a focus on six strategic imperatives can help energy providers reshape to build a people-centered, technology-enabled business that engages consumers.

  • About the survey

    This global consumer survey was conducted across 17 countries with a diverse demographic sampling of 34,000 residential energy consumers aged 18 or older. To bring a broad consumer perspective, the survey sample included a mix of bill payers and non-bill payers across ages and income levels.

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Chapter 1

Effortless engagement

Close the gap between expectations and satisfaction by making key moments easy.

After affordability and reliability, effort is the biggest experience-related determinant of customers’ satisfaction, explaining 90% of overall service satisfaction. But most energy providers struggle with the technology, processes, talent and mindset to make experiences effortless, even around basic services. Just over half (58%) of customers are satisfied with the ease of their energy experience, and our research shows that they are quickly moving beyond the basics and expecting more from their energy providers — including greater choice and alignment to their values, as well as support that is simple and easy to navigate.

As the energy transition continues to advance, our research shows that the complexity of meeting consumer expectations is set to grow. Consumers will increasingly adopt a broader range of new energy products and services with many of these fundamentally changing the industry’s historical relationship with customers. Accelerated by a range of market, technological and societal trends, passive energy users will give way to a new more active and engaged “omnisumer” who participates in a dynamic energy ecosystem across a multitude of places, solutions and providers. Their demand for simple, but sophisticated end-to-end experiences will become the new basis for effortless engagement.

For the omnisumer, simple, but sophisticated end-to-end experiences will become the new basis for effortless engagement.

A focus on making key moments easy can lay the foundation for improvement. For most consumers, these moments include sign-up, activating a new service or device, moving home, the first bill and outage support. Data and analytics can offer insights on these, building a picture of consumer behaviors that can enhance processes, establish accountability and secure a positive feedback loop that drives continuous improvement. 

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Chapter 2

Operational agility

Make “eliminate, simplify and streamline” your mantra.

Agility is critical to successful transformation but, according to the EY Digital Transformation and the Workforce Survey, almost all energy providers say the speed at which their organization can move is a challenge. With an uncertain and dynamic energy transition ahead, those who can move with speed and agility will be best positioned to thrive. Embedding this speed and agility across the organization starts with a clear vision from leadership, and a commitment to eliminate, simplify and streamline processes, policies, procedures, customer channels and offerings.

Digital Transformation and the Workforce Survey

94%

of energy providers say their ability to move quickly is a challenge.

To become more agile, energy providers will need to adopt flatter structures and be more democratized, with small autonomous teams empowered to own specific customer-oriented objectives, solve problems and share solutions. Centralized support services can encourage progress through insights, tools and learning, and updated KPIs that fit this new team-oriented, customer-centric model.

And agility is not just for the call center or back office. Embedding an agile approach across marketing and sales, energy solutions, field services and IT will also be important as energy providers test and scale innovative new products and services.

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Chapter 3

Digital enablement

Build seamless experiences that blend digital capabilities with the human touch.

Technology when you want it, and a person when you don’t, is how consumers seek to engage with energy providers. Our research found that people prefer digital for 8 out of 10 interactions. And forget the generational digital divide – 67% of Boomers report using digital channels compared with 56% of Gen Zs.

But there remains a significant gap in the digital experience offered by energy providers. Sixty-two percent of consumers have experienced a problem using their energy provider’s digital service, and 37% are not confident using them, a figure that increases to 50% for Gen Z.

Consumers still want the human touch for some interactions, including making a complaint, managing an outage or emergency, and resolving an issue. So, while energy providers must improve the digital experience, a wholesale shift to digital won’t meet consumer needs. Instead, a nuanced 360-degree view of interactions across channels can build omnichannel journeys that use seamless hand-offs from digital self-serve and virtual agents to real people, to give consumers what they want, when they want it.

Turning digital tools and technologies inward can improve the employee experience and accelerate better ways of working. The same virtual agent capabilities that provide intelligent chatbots to customers can create agent-assist tools that improve knowledge management for the front and back office. Automation can cut time, costs and effort, and free up agents to focus on higher-value tasks.

Realizing the benefits of customer and operational technology investments requires a new digital architecture and cloud strategy. With energy providers facing a range of different circumstances, there will be no single way forward, but they will all need a more advanced and flexible digital platform.

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Chapter 4

Adaptive workforce

Employee satisfaction equals customer satisfaction.

Building an adaptive workforce has long been on the agenda of energy providers, and the issue is reaching new levels of urgency. Digitization has increased dramatically, eliminating simple customer interactions, and operational tasks have been automated or moved to self-serve. Overcoming existing customer experience challenges will require a more engaged, flexible and technology-savvy workforce, reinvigorated by a new employee experience.

Focusing on the employee experience isn’t just about improving employee satisfaction – it is critical to delivering on energy consumers’ evolving expectations. Organizations with top-quartile employee experience are twice as innovative, 25% more profitable and achieve double the net promoter score, which measures how likely customers are to recommend a company or product to a friend.

And what employees want today is fundamentally different, with COVID-19 resetting employee expectations around their working life. Fifty-four percent of employees say they will quit their job if not offered flexibility in schedule and work location – and the figure is twice as high for Millennials as for Boomers.

2021 Work Reimagined Employee Survey

54%

of employees will quit their job if not offered flexibility.

The seismic changes across the energy market, and consumer and employee expectations, mean the operations of the past are simply not fit for the future – entirely new operating models are needed. Hybrid and remote working approaches put in place during the COVID-19 pandemic are here to stay and offer an opportunity to accelerate the reinvention of the way work is done. Investment in the operational and technology capabilities required to support a distributed employee base and enhance the employee experience is likely to pay big dividends. Digital training can more cost-effectively upskill and reskill employees. Hybrid work models can expand talent options, allowing providers to tap into remote and gig workers more easily. And they may also allow companies to reduce their facilities’ footprint and lower operating costs.

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Chapter 5

Innovative growth

Protect and grow by focusing on customer needs.

Energy providers have struggled to achieve growth over the past decade, particularly as competition increased in some markets. How can they take a customer-focused approach to get back to growth? Part of the answer lies in going back to basics, using digital technologies and customer insights to underpin an intelligent, disciplined and value-based “protect and grow” strategy.

Protect means using the right data insights at the right time, through smart automated marketing and sales processes that make contract renewal effortless, enhance customer win-back if they do leave and tactically defend customers targeted by competitors.

Navigating the Energy Transition Consumer Survey

50%

of consumers would turn to energy providers first to buy new energy solutions.

Achieving a step-change in organic growth requires capturing new revenue through strategic but bold action. Energy providers must focus on developing and incubating new products and services, either internally or through an ecosystem of partners. Whichever path is chosen, those that move now can yield gains – 50% of consumers would turn to energy providers first to buy new energy solutions. And they are interested in a range of products and services, including:

  • Pay-in-advance energy options – preferred by 42% of consumers overall and more than 50% of Gen Z.
  • Self-generation – 86% of consumers are interested, and 26% are considering purchasing in the next three years.
  • EVs – 25% of consumers are considering purchasing in the next three years.

Energy providers may also uncover new opportunities by serving the growing segment of people working remotely. Our research found 64% of consumers working from home checked their energy consumption at least once a month (12% higher than average) and 70% were interested in energy efficiency solutions (8% higher than average). These more engaged and energy-sensitive consumers are an expanding group with needs that are yet to be addressed.

@home workers are an expanding group of more engaged and energy-sensitive consumers with needs that are yet to be addressed.

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Chapter 6

Sustainable enterprise

For consumers, green is good – but it’s not everything.

Consumers want sustainable solutions from their energy provider but also expect them to “walk the talk” by “greening” their operations. The good news is that more than one-third (36%) of consumers are willing to pay more for sustainable products and services. The bad news is that only 54% say they are satisfied with the sustainable products and services currently offered by their energy provider.

If providers are to engage consumers around sustainability to drive new revenue or increase uptake of energy efficiency and energy management programs, they will need to do so while also addressing other purchasing motivations. Our research shows consumers have significant interest in adopting new energy products and services when the benefits are aligned around three core areas: saving money, time and the planet.

Navigating the Energy Transition Consumer Survey

36%

of consumers will pay more for sustainable energy products and services.

Consumers also expect energy providers to demonstrate a holistic commitment to sustainability that includes support for local and global sustainability programs, as well as greening operations. Greening the vehicle fleet is a natural starting point, and remote working can also reap sustainability benefits by allowing providers to rationalize real estate, and reduce emissions and costs. The greening of IT is another opportunity. Cloud technology solutions can reduce emissions by nearly 80%. And changing workforce behavior — for example, by going paperless — can cut costs and contribute to a broader sustainability program that engages employees. 

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Chapter 7

Five “no regret” actions to start now

Later is too late – light the path forward today.

With so many priorities, growing complexity and emerging opportunities, it can be challenging for an energy provider to know where to focus efforts and resources. We believe that five no regret actions can immediately start to build a future energy experience that meets consumers’ expectations, achieves short-term commercial goals and creates long-term value.

How to get started
  1. Identify and enhance key customer moments that matter by eliminating, simplifying and streamlining high-impact journeys end to end and combining the best of digital and personal engagement to make experiences effortless for consumers.
  2. Reinvent the operating model by establishing agile structures, engaging employees and creating the new roles, career paths, skills and performance management approaches needed to thrive in an uncertain future.
  3. Simplify today and incubate for tomorrow by reviewing current rate and tariff options, energy management programs, and products and services to optimize the portfolio while incubating the innovative culture that will drive future growth.
  4. Make sustainability an operational imperative across the enterprise, aligning corporate purpose, brand promise, offerings and operations. Bring a sustainability lens to help transform customer and retail facilities, the workplace environment, IT approaches and field services.
  5. Start your road map for an omnisumer future, assessing how multiproduct, multichannel, and multiprovider energy experiences will evolve and prioritize operational and strategic building blocks today.

Navigating the Energy Transition Consumer Survey

Read the perspectives of energy residential consumers across the globe and explore the key insights for energy providers.

Download the PDF

Summary

The energy transition is accelerating – and consumers are leading the way. Energy providers have an opportunity to light the path to a more sustainable energy future, while also finding new ways to grow revenue and cut costs. But doing so involves transforming the energy customers’ experience to meet the changing expectations of more engaged omnisumers.

EY research into global energy consumers reveals that six strategic imperatives can help energy providers take a human-centered, technology-enabled approach to transforming the customer experience, delivering short-term commercial gains and laying the foundation for long-term value creation.

About this article

By Greg Guthridge

EY Global Energy & Resources Customer Experience Transformation Leader

Supporting business transformation by leveraging digital technologies. Driving innovation at speed and placing humans at the center of the dialogue. Outdoor enthusiast, photographer and wanderer.