How to power up customer service in utilities

We are helping one of the biggest US utilities to transform its customer and employee experiences.
Man and woman looking at abstract cityscape being projected onto the wall in a gallery space

The better the question

How can a utility recharge its connection to customers and employees?

A major US utility asked EY to help it use digital technology to build closer relationships with both their customers and employees.

In the highly regulated world of utilities, markets are being deregulated. New competitors are emerging across distribution, transmission and power generation. And the shift to clean energy is accelerating. To meet these challenges, a large integrated, multi-jurisdictional utility wanted to find a more innovative way to connect with its electric and natural gas customers.

The leadership team wanted to build closer relationships with both their customers and employees, using digital technology. They revealed that the top reason customers phoned the call center was to tell the company that their power was out. They asked how to reduce points of friction with customers, creating a more interactive relationship that would strengthen loyalty and build long-term value.

We used EY wavespace™ to explore how innovation could propel the utility forward, using technology to enable new ways of working and new behaviors. To bring these ideas to life and “show not tell,” EY developed a prototype that leadership could click through to see and experience a technology-enabled future for customers and employees. Doing this in wavespace helped them to appreciate the impact of proactive communication with customers, such as storm alerts, real-time information on power outages, expected repair times, and the ability to track the current location of the field crews.

In the context of the regional regulated power and utility industry, these ideas were leading edge. wavespace provided the space, mindset and collaborative tools to work through initial concerns, and to align and energize executives. Soon leadership’s only question was: how soon can we get started?

Female home owner checking energy consumption on digital tablet using smart meter technology. She can control all the household systems from the one place. Graphics for the app have been designed by myself.

The better the answer

New technology, behaviors and structures are transforming the utility

We brought together a diverse blend of talent to create a team that is leading the company into a customer-led future.

True transformation involves the entire company. To disrupt the experiences of customers and employees, you need foundational technology and stable platforms, agile development practices, new governance models, strong risk management and security, and new guidelines for HR and talent, to name a few.

Delivering this requires collaboration across a number of disciplines. We brought together talent across the EY organization, including technology, security, operations, tax, risk, innovation, culture and change, across the span of the utility, to help shift to a customer-first business model. Using wavespace enabled us to bridge departmental silos and take a broad approach to the multitude of organizational and operational issues that will be affected by the implementation of the new model, for example integrating security, with cloud solutions, new governance models and HR. It also freed executives to reimagine the future. As the utility’s Chief Customer & Innovation Officer said, “EY’s approach to innovation was a powerful way to immerse our executives into how innovation, technology and new ways of working could improve our customer and employee experiences.”

There’s a natural progression from agreeing a technology blueprint that will help enable this different future, and working through the technology and investment decisions required to make it happen. EY worked with the utility to create the digital platforms and toolsets needed to support new ways of working and new behaviors. This was in place by March 2020, when their new cloud-enabled infrastructure and tools put the utility in a good position to work through the immediate challenges of COVID-19.

EY’s approach to innovation was a powerful way to immerse our executives into how innovation, technology and new ways of working could improve our customer and employee experiences.

We will continue to work with the utility to transform the customer experience by simplifying processes to enroll new customers and request services, providing advice on lowering energy bills and giving customers the ability to view and track field crews. For example, on the appliance repair service, customers will be able to use an application to request and schedule a repair, add photos or videos of the problem, and view field crews’ work details.

We are also using wavespace to explore how technology can streamline internal processes, creating a more transparent system for service appointments. This system includes photos and videos that customers have uploaded and a two-way, transparent rating system for both customers and employees to rate each other.

Going forward, EY will strengthen the utility’s innovation capabilities by establishing two wavespace centers. Once these are up and running, the company will be well positioned to explore the benefits of predictive analytics, connected home services, personalization, smart meters and grids, microgrids and partnerships with government and commercial organizations for itself.

By building a customer-first business model, the utility is enhancing its reputation and creating a more sustainable business. It will also have an established a customer-based ecosystem that helps enable it to offer new services and products that have yet to be imagined.

Businesswoman using device at a wall

The better the world works

Happier, better-connected customers and better-skilled employees

Customers will benefit from easier access to services and products, while employees gain innovation skills.

When the project is finished, customers will have a much more dynamic, interactive relationship with the utility, and improved access to information on storm alerts and power outages. The application will make it easier and more convenient for customers to book service appointments, upload information about technical problems, check on progress and rate field crews. Customers will also benefit from the utility’s sustainable approach to innovation, creating new products and services in line with their needs.

Employees will benefit from tech-enabled and streamlined processes. Clear, easy to access information on service appointments and technical issues will be available before their arrival on-site. The ability to view photos and videos uploaded by customers means they can bring the right tools and parts to site, and a two-way, transparent rating system means they can rate customers as well as receive ratings from them.

Overall, this collaboration will result in millions of people having a more connected, transparent and accessible relationship with their energy supplier, and thousands of employees being more connected to customers. In an industry that has often struggled with customer engagement, this US utility is charting a new path forward.

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