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Frequent, Relevant, and Consistent Communications: Keys to Delivering a Positive Utility Customer Experience

Key Factors Utilities Should Consider When Planning Their Customer Communications

No matter the industry a company operates in, one of the quintessential customer service debates is about how often to contact customers. This fact remains especially true in the utility sector.

Too much communication and you could create frustrated customers who tune out of all contact and risk the most critical messages missing them. Too little communication and you’ll get uninformed customers who aren’t seeing the important and customer-focused work being done behind the scenes or the money-saving opportunities afforded to them.

Failing to adequately and properly engage customers could result in the understanding and awareness of your brand dwindling. And while many utility customers aren’t in a position to switch providers like they are for cell phone providers, for example, customer satisfaction is still of paramount importance to utilities.

Don’t believe it?

All you need to do is consult a CapGemini study that found a resounding 73% of respondents would pay a higher bill if it meant better customer service from their utility provider.

Considering the amount of time and effort customers spend seeking to reduce bills, this figure should demonstrate how invaluable the utility customer experience (CX) is.

And for utilities where customers can switch to new providers, look no further than the 33% of customers who cite poor customer service as the reason why they’ve switched utilities.

If you were to ask customers how often they want to hear from their utility, they may default to thinking they’d rather not be bothered or they may be hyper-engaged and want to know everything. So, like Goldilocks testing the various beds, utilities must find the level of customer communications that’s just right to deliver a positive CX.

In doing so, utilities must consider some key factors when planning their customer communications:

What Stress is Going On in Customers’ Lives?

In times of stress or when customers are feeling more at risk, they will naturally need more communication from their utilities. In such situations, customers will likely be distracted from previous key information from utilities: what to do in case of an outage, how to best prepare your home, what the utility can do to help, and more. So it’s up to the utility, in these instances, to communicate and remind them.

Another issue during high impact events may be the confusing amount of information customers are taking in from various sources. They may be dealing with rumors from their neighbors or unsubstantiated information being promulgated by social media. To fight these mixed messages, customers need to hear important information straight from their utility providers as authoritative sources.

Despite the urgency of communicating, utilities must also keep in mind that it’s not just about upping the communication frequency, but rather it’s about ensuring a holistic, seamless CX and not a fractured one.

When different communication channels simultaneously deliver messages with mixed tones, divided designs with no integration, or even competing calls to action, the CX risks doing more harm than good. Once again, this is also the result of pushing the customer away with too much information, rather than pulling them towards your targeted and desired outcomes.

So, keep in mind the criticality for fracture-free experience, especially in stressful times (which the utility industry has seen plenty of this year from COVID-19 and economic hardships to wildfires and hurricanes).

 

What is Being Asked of the Customer at a Given Moment?

The right type of messaging will be determined by what the end goal is.

The type, and frequency, of communication when your goal is to give a customer a gentle reminder is different than the one sent to notify them when a bill is going to be high or is past due. Similarly, weather-related messaging will differ based on the message: seasonal tips for saving energy during the winter are less urgent, but if extreme weather is passing through then the immediacy of the message matters.

When determining the right channels and frequency to communicate with customers for various types of events, the outcomes are thus important.

Customers will want to take action in the event of those urgent occurrences, so being more frequent with contact is warranted, as is the use of more personalized outreach directly to them, like sending text messages or smartphone notifications.

But, If the messages are more friendly reminders that are simply ‘good to know,’ hitting a customer with them too often, risks that customers getting fed up and opting out of the communication channel entirely.

So, keep in mind what your desired outcomes are for given communications and plan accordingly.

 

Consider the unique customer journeys within the utility

Utilities inherently cover wide areas with varied customers, whether they’re municipal utilities stretching across the entire city or larger regional utilities. With such varied customers, they must also  account for many different unique customer journeys associated with different customer profiles:

  • Renters vs. homeowners
  • Low- and middle-income vs. high earners
  • Sustainability-focused customers vs. non-sustainability-focused
  • Tech-savvy users vs. those who still only want paper bills by mail

A single type of customer journey roadmap won’t adequately capture all of these variables, so being able to identify, separate, and respond based on unique customer journeys is critical. And all of these considerations will inform exactly how much and what type of communication is optimal.

To properly take these types of factors into account, utilities must be sure to first define the different customer journeys within the customer lifecycle. Second, utilities should understand the full set of communications that can be sent across all customer journeys.

Remember the Goldilocks analogy: some of your customers will want more communications, others less; some will want push notifications to their smartphone, while others will look for your letter in the mail; some will want to talk to a customer service agent, and others still will comb through your website’s FAQ.

None of these pathways are wrong, and it’s your job to find what’s ‘just right’ to meet those customers where they are, understanding the gaps: where communication is missing and where it needs to be aligned.

Customer Communication Journey for Utilities

What Has the Customer Come to Expect from CX, Even Outside of Utilities?

A last consideration in the CX world that utilities must come to grips with, is the type of customer service that’s become expected by customers generally. 

While utilities are providing completely different services compared with Netflix, Neiman Marcus, and Embassy Suites, so what can they learn from those companies? Well, they happen to be ranked in America’s best customer service in 2020, and customers are coming to expect that level of optimal CX from utilities as well. 

When it comes to these business leaders in customer experience, they all tend to excel at creating a seamless experience across all communications

A change you made on the online web portal should immediately be reflected when you check the corresponding smartphone app. The messaging received via email should reflect the written mail received by that customer. Programs should be explained in the same way, regardless of whether customers are reading about them on the utility website or asking a customer service agent directly. 

Additionally, this unified front of customer communications must be fine-tuned to the specific needs of the customer. Not too much communication, not too little, but just right.

Digital communication for utilities – can it fix a fractured CX?

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.  

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