Power to the people: How customer expectations are shaking up the utility market

We’re more likely to get divorced than ditch our energy provider. A surprising statistic considering that 4 in 5 of us claim to be dissatisfied with our current supplier. But recent studies suggest that this is all about to change, forcing energy providers to search for new and innovative ways to put the spark back into customer relationships.


For years, utility companies had been asked to merely keep the lights on and the power costs stable, and as consumers we hadn’t really demanded much more than that. We’d resigned ourselves to paying extra on phone, broadband and utility bills rather enter the mind-numbing world of the price comparison websites- or worse- the dreaded call centre.

But today’s “know it all, want it all” customers expect far more from their supplier. They want better services, transparent and flexible pricing and the ability to control their transactions. Last year the number of people switching energy providers was up by 30%– a figure that is certain to rise as new disruptive entrants enter the market offering more flexible solutions.

So why now?

In today’s on-demand economy, customers want access to services that are fast, connected and personalised. Expectation of good customer service is becoming much higher because utility customers are having good customer service experiences with so many other companies.

As consumers we can order almost anything online and have it delivered practically the next day, text restaurants our order before we arrive, and receive call backs when someone is ready to assist us rather than waiting on hold for half a century listening to some awful panpipe rendition of the Titanic theme song.

So, transforming the customer experience for utility companies is crucial. Admittedly, there are some factors outside of a utility company’s control: poor weather, fluctuating energy costs and other natural challenges that affect service reliability. However, utility companies can control other factors involved in creating a positive customer experience, improved engagement, personalised targeting and easier access to services across mobile and digital channels.

More choice:

The Big Six. They may sound like characters from a Tarantino film, but for a long time these providers dominated the energy market. But with new and nimble entrants eating up their slice of the market, companies are forced to look beyond price incentives to attract consumer attention.

Suppliers are now investing in loyalty offerings to encourage customers to stick with their standard tariffs, including reward schemes, free services, priority access to events and supermarket store points. Introducing incentives is not just a commercial exercise in customer retention, but a method of ensuring better product suitability for those customers who don’t engage.

 

Improved digital experiences:

By encouraging homes and businesses to move to online self-service, research has shown that customers have higher brand loyalty, better experiences and contribute more to new revenue streams. For this reason, digitally engaged customers are more valuable customers.

Other industries such as banking and retail are already a decade into their digital transformations. When was the last time anyone actually spoke to their bank? With the advent of mobile banking and live chat consumers can access all the information they need. Utilities might be getting a late start, but they are catching up.

In the UK, First Utility became the first company to use Facebook Messenger in customer service to enhance its customer service offering and engage with customers on a platform they were familiar with.  First Utility knew that customers want their questions answered without a lot of extra work on their part. So, by creating a solution that fits seamlessly into their customers life they can offer a more engaging experience and better service.

Make it personal:

Personalisation is more than just a gimmick, when done properly it provides a much-needed advantage in an increasingly noisy world of choices.

Customers expect personalisation as a bare minimum when it comes to online experiences, with customer data- previously only used for billing purposes- forming the foundations for building a better relationship.  Consumer data can also assist with bill breakdown by enabling clearer explanations as well as providing practical, personal and relevant advice about how bills can be managed.

Smart Energy meters are an example of this application. As household energy data is harnessed from smart meters, energy companies can gain insight into which appliance is being used, for how long and in what mode enabling them to tailor products to their customers and offer more cost-efficient solutions.

The passive energy customer is giving way to customers that are engaged, empowered and informed. It’s never been more important to tie great customer service to responsiveness across every communication channel, to proactive communication that anticipates customer needs. To keep up with these changes, utility brands must be thinking about multi-channel platforms and real-time integration of CRM data into every session.

-Anna Melton, Marketing Manager