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Are Utilities Improving the Digital Customer Experience?

How Can Utilities Deliver A Great Digital CX (1)

The modern utility has many more digital tools at their disposal than the legacy utility companies did a decade ago. This is fortunate because customers of today are demanding more of their utility providers than at any time in the past.

Given this evolving environment, utilities have more opportunities, and stronger motivations, to improve the customer experience, particularly in the realm of digital communications.

Unfortunately, opportunity doesn’t always translate into action. Some utilities are not doing enough to ensure a seamless digital experience.

At this critical inflection point in the digitization of all aspects of utility companies, decision-makers need to understand the utility’s current digital maturity and create a strategic plan to prioritize the digital CX.

Customer experience as a priority

A recent J.D. Power survey found that utilities are among the “lowest-performing industry groups” when it comes to providing customized and useful digital customer experiences.

In many cases, simply making sure their service is affordable and reliable is a utility’s number 1 priority. To improve the customer experience, they first need to elevate CX in the list of critical priorities.

Particularly in areas where unsatisfied customers don’t have the option to choose an alternative provider, a utility may be at risk of overlooking how important it is to keep customers happy, engaged, and informed.

Digital customer communication journeys

Utilities can identify key areas for improving customer communication by cataloging the various ways in which customers interact with them. This requires documenting each unique customer journey and the communication currently supporting it.

A good starting point is to take a step back and look at different customer journeys through the lens of the customer:

  • How easy is it for them to get in touch?
  • How often are they interacting and through which channels?
  • Are digital tools – such as websites, apps, and portals – intuitive, quick to use, and helpful?
  • Are paper communications being shifted to digital channels?
  • How do customers receive and pay their bills?

Too often, the bill-to-payment journey is the only regular touchpoint between a utility and its customers. This particular customer journey is an exceedingly critical one, as it’s likely to set the stage for how the customer feels about the utility.

But, if the bill is the only communication the customer is receiving, the utility is definitely not paying enough attention to the customer experience.

One study, in particular, found that the average customer only spent 8 minutes per year (40 seconds per month!) interacting with their utility online, just to pay the bills.

The bill-to-payment journey is a good target to move off paper and go paperless, providing a great opportunity for utilities to make improvements to the customer experience through digital communication. 

While few people enjoy paying a bill, the customer journey doesn’t need to add to the unpleasantness. Making the bill-to-payment journey a seamless, intuitive and easy process is essential. 

Communicate to promote engagement

In addition to customer-friendly bills and payment options, customers appreciate receiving useful and timely information outside of those regular, expected communications. For example, offering a text or email alert when there is excessively high usage is a great service to the customer. It also benefits the utility, as an unexpectedly high bill can double the odds that a customer switches energy providers. 

There are many such opportunities to use digital customer communication to build a strong customer relationship. Here are a few ideas:

  • Provide consumption reports by email so customers can see trends and alter their usage to be more efficient.
  • Recommend programs to help customers save money, such as incentives for purchasing home energy upgrades, the ability to opt into a higher clean energy mix, or opportunities to participate in new pilot programs. 
  • Encourage customers to sign up to receive text or email alerts when there is an emergency or outage. 
  • Use social media accounts to keep customers up-to-date on topics like energy-saving tips, infrastructure upgrades, and cost-saving programs from the utility. 

Digital channels offer speed and interactivity

It’s important to leverage the speed at which information can reach customers using digital channels such as email and text. Urgent notifications should be sent via channels that customers use all day, every day. 

It also makes sense to use the full capabilities of digital channels to provide information in a way that is interactive, dynamic and engaging for the customer. 

By embracing the speed and interactivity of digital channels, utilities can be sure to keep CX a priority and build processes that meet the expectations of the customer. 

Matt Chester

Matt Chester

Guest Blogger

Matt Chester is an energy analyst in Orlando FL, by way of Washington DC. He studied engineering and science & technology policy at the University of Virginia before diving into the world of federal energy policy. 

Today he runs Chester Energy and Policy LLC and publishes his blog at ChesterEnergyandPolicy.com in which he shares news, insights, and advice in the fields of energy policy and energy technology. You can also see Matt’s work on energycentral.com where he serves as a Community Manage with a utility industry focus. 

Matt is writing a series of guest blogs for Striata, focusing on paperless billing and digital communication in utilities. 

For daily quick hits on energy and utility topics, you can follow him on Twitter at @ChesterEnergy.