Using Digital Technologies to Enhance Utility Customer Experience
After decades of being seen as an inertia-filled legacy industry, utilities have begun, in recent years, embracing true digital transformation. This has been motivated by numerous inherent technological and institutional evolutions, such as:
- Market competition arising from self-generation and deregulation;
- The advent of smart technologies and mobile customer tools; and
- A customer-driven desire for the utility-customer relationship to become more than a once-per-month touchpoint.
The old paradigm for utilities was really to keep the power on and send customers a monthly bill. But now customers expect much more.
As technological progress transforms all sorts of different industries (e.g. the manner in which Amazon.com transformed retail, Netflix transformed watching TV and movies, and Uber transformed transportation), customer outlook for what they can and should receive across every industry segment has been elevated. Utility companies have not been immune to this rising tide raising the ship of expectations, with digital options becoming a key requirement.
Customer Experience Technology Advancements
Forward-looking utilities are embracing the new digital landscape and adopting state-of-the-art digital strategies to engage and partner with customers like never before.
Let’s dive into some examples of how digital technology is enhancing the utility customer experience journey:
Billing and Payment
Despite the availability of paperless billing, receiving and paying bills by mail has not yet become a thing of the past. In fact, the paperless adoption rate in U.S. utilities has hovered around 15% to 20%, with leading organizations only recently seeing that percentage climb above 30%. These low numbers not only represent an environmental concern from wasted paper, but they can have a negative impact on the utility via a less streamlined cash flow and additional administrative costs of sending repeat notices for unpaid bills.
It’s true that younger customers are more comfortable with technology and are more likely to adopt digital options. However, on the opposite side, there are customers who have completed their utility billing process by paper and envelope their whole lives and have less trust in the reliability, security, and ease of use of online methods. These customers need to be converted, and for them, digital technologies must be intuitive and have demonstrative advantages for them to adopt.
For these holdouts still clutching their paper bills, here are some examples of customer experience technologies utilities should consider adopting:
- One click payment options from emailed bills to streamline the bill-to-payment journey
- Mid-month alerts, such as by text or email, when unexpectedly high energy consumption is detected
- Using high bills as an opportunity to inform customers about programs that save energy, such as efficient appliance rebates or even offering personalized energy-saving tips
Outage Tracking and Response
The ability of customers to continue using a smartphone, for example, to access utility resources during a power outage, really enables new CX opportunities surrounding the unfortunate reality of outages.
Utilities can use their websites, social media feeds, or mobile apps, to provide maps that outline where the outages are being experienced and estimates for when power is expected to be restored. Some utilities have even opted to begin sending customers text messages about known outage information, at least satisfying the customer need to be kept in the loop.
More than just disseminating information to customers, though, well thought out CX technologies can empower customers to contribute to problem-solving by giving them an easy way to report issues like downed lines or malfunctioning equipment.
While the goal of a utility should always be to make sure a customer is not left in the literal dark when the power cuts off the lights, with these new CX tools, they can at least ensure customers aren’t left in the figurative dark about when power will be restored.
Measuring and Tracking Energy Use
This more involved type of utility customer also desires more information about their energy usage. Thanks to increasingly available smart grid and smart metering technology, more granular and specific energy usage data is available to these informed customers.
Rather than just reporting a total amount of energy consumption over a given month, as has been done in the past, advanced CX technology can spell out what days and times the power was consumed, what systems of the building used how much energy, and more.
By making this more detailed information on energy use available to customers, they are empowered to take more proactive actions to adjust their behaviors. For example, utilities that provide web portals or apps with digital insights into consumption patterns during the middle of a billing month will allow those customers to determine early on if there are any issues or peculiarities, adjust their habits if they are consuming too much, and become a more involved partner in the measuring and tracking energy journey.
Further, energy-conscious customers are more likely to want to track how their power usage is changing from month-to-month and year-to-year, as well as how their energy habits compare with neighbors whose homes are about the same size. Using digital CX tools to put all of this information at a customer’s fingertips, utilities can encourage customers to adopt more efficient behaviors and enable them to save money and more proactively harness green habits.
As a last example, customer experience technologies should always be used with an eye towards improving customer service. The ability to use modern technology to reduce the amount of time customers spend dialing into call centers, will not only serve to reduce utility costs, but also to improve the overall satisfaction level customers feel.
Customers who can get the answers they need quickly, without having to navigate multiple frustrating layers of call operators and many minutes on the phone, will have a more favorable view of their experience.
Digital technologies to consider in this realm include websites and apps that can answer frequent customer questions on a personalized basis. By looking at what customers have told you they want and seeing what questions they tend to ask when calling customer service, a utility can learn about what areas would be most useful to reducing call frequency.
Similarly, chatbots and using artificial intelligence to understand and guide customers towards the information they seek will help these CX technologies build upon themselves.
Excitingly, smart technologies like voice assistants are demonstrating new opportunities and forging ground even beyond what customers have come to expect from mobile devices.
In the future, a customer asking Alexa what their current power usage for the month is or asking Google Home when this month’s bill is due will increasingly become standard practice.
How Striata Can Help
Striata has assisted many utilities in the process of digital transformation and is knowledgeable about integrating these types of digital CX technologies into customer journeys. Notable successes include:
- Empowering a utility client in taking their paperless billing adoption rate from 14% all the way up to 45% (which enabled an increase of customers who pay bills within a week to 57%)
- Implementing a one click payment option for another utility client, that was utilized by over 43% of customers who were presented with the option
- Assisting numerous entities in evaluating and implementing change to their digital maturity journey