Building Digital Trust Will Open Doors for Utilities

Engaged customers are more likely to purchase additional products and services that the utility is best placed to provide.
Published: Tue 14 Jul 2015

Accenture’s most recent report, The New Energy Consumer: Unleashing Business Value in a Digital World, highlights the fact that utilities are missing out on an opportunity to play a key role in a transformed decentralized, prosumer-driven energy system. It states that the most successful will be those that are taking the step to transform themselves to this new system by offering new services. [Engerati-Opportunities Growing For Forward-Looking Utilities.]

But, before utilities can take this bold step, it seems they need to do some repair work when it comes to their customer relationships. The report indicates that while consumers have a reasonably high degree of trust in utilities when it comes to securing and protecting their personal data and information about their energy consumption (expressed by almost two-thirds), only 36% will trust their energy provider to guide them when it comes to optimising their energy usage.

Reset the customer relationship

We spoke to John Webster, VP of marketing and strategy for EMEA & APAC, Opower, who says that it is up to utilities to really engage with its customers and build digital trust. He adds, “If you can provide the right information at the right time and through the right channel, in a personalized way, you will build digital trust. These digitally-engaged customers are proven to then be more likely to purchase additional products and services that the utility is best placed to provide.”

He explains that consumers are waking up to new technological solutions so the utility needs to be building that mutual trust now so that they can use the information and relationship to offer these products successfully.

Utilities should aim to be in a position where customers are actively engaging with their utility and are happy to provide personal information because they know they will get value back, says Mr Webster.

Mr Webster points to E.ON UK as a good example of utilities taking the step towards building better customer relationships. In response to a general atmosphere of poor customer satisfaction and low level of trust, E.ON set to work on defining a new customer strategy. Anthony Ainsworth, E.ON UK’s Marketing Director, puts it simply: “As a fairly new management team, we said enough’s enough. We figuratively pushed the reset button, and we said let’s do something differently here. So we set ourselves on a path to improve customer satisfaction.”

Mr Webster adds: “The UK energy market is highly competitive. The industry faces very strong public, regulatory and media scrutiny. UK utilities face very poor levels of trust, high levels of negative press, especially around rising consumer utility bills.” But, he says that E.ON recognised the challenges and did a lot of work internally to look at why utilities across the industry had lost customer trust. “They realised that in order to compete, they would have to completely reset their customer relationship, which was an honest and brave call. They now take customer engagement and customer feedback very seriously indeed.”In 2013, E.ON’s entire brand was redefined with a clear re-focus on the customer experience. They did this by:

1. Engaging customers more effectively and increasing customer loyalty.

2. Accelerating their existing digital strategy- providing information that was relevant to customers’ needs through the most convenient channels.

3. Creating compelling customer experiences through the application of meter data analytics

“E.ON is a very forward thinking organisation when it comes to offering additional energy products and services so they knew they had to have trust in place before offering a wider portfolio of products and services,” says Mr Webster.

IDC Energy Insights applaud E.ON UK’s customer strategy transformation in its white paper,  E.ON UK: A Best Practices Case Study from IDC Energy Insights.

Digital tools redesigning the customer experience

Opower is essentially E.ON’s customer engagement platform. E.ON, through Opower, offered customers access to what they called their “Saving Energy Tool Kit” experience, a web based experience which provides personalized information about power consumption, as well as neighbourhood comparisons and personalized tips on how to control energy usage.

The online toolkit is aimed at helping customers understand and manage their own energy consumption. Some customer segments received home energy reports with personalized energy usage insights and advice on how to control it via email as well as on paper via post. Opower provides easily understood and actionable  insights from the data generated by both smart and traditional meters. To date, over 1 million of E.ON’s customers have signed up for, and are interacting with, the online toolkit and more than half of them have completed an online energy audit to pinpoint the greatest opportunities to reduce their bills.

Says Mr Webster “It’s not just about communicating out. It’s the beginning of starting a sustained and mutually valued two way digital conversation. This can only enhance a customer’s view that their utility is going the extra mile to provide a personalized service experience.”

The new customer strategy was aimed at achieving market-leading figures in customer satisfaction and Net Promoter Score and this was going to be done primarily by helping customers understand and control their usage more effectively. E.ON’s slogan “Use only what you need, pay for only what you use” certainly struck a chord with many customers. Says Mr Webster, “Delivering and marketing this kind of new customer experience has helped to improve existing customer relationships, reduce churn and also aid the acquisition of new customers to E.ON.”  

8 Steps to elevating the customer experience

These are the eight steps that any utility— regulated or competitive — can take to dramatically elevate the customer experience:

1.Become more customer-centric by viewing the company’s internal processes through the customers’ eyes.

2.Encourage feedback from customers (and staff) -the good, the bad and the ugly feedback!

3.Get staff buy-in so that everyone works towards the same goals.

4.Hire top technologists-customers want helpful, intuitive online tools to manage their service operations

5.Provide proactive, personalized advice to help save energy and reduce bills. For instance, the Saving Energy Toolkit, enabled via E.ON’s partnership with Opower, offers an intuitive website which gives customers the information and insights they need to take more control of their energy use.

6.Commitment to reach its entire customer base. For instance, E.ON marshalled a media blitz on radio and online to ensure that customers knew about its new programmes. E.ON also chose the right technology to support its digital transformation: a cloud-based software platform that scales fast without sacrificing flexibility and innovation.

7.Pick the right partners

8.Make decisions based on rigorous metrics and analysis (this looks at customer satisfaction, website visits, and net promoter score as a north star.)

Says Mr Webster, “If utilities can move quickly to gain digital trust, they are well-placed to be the primary provider of home energy management tools and services to their customers. But, utilities must be able to demonstrate the clear benefits of ongoing engagement to their customers. Customer value should be at the very centre of every customer communication and touchpoint.”

Further reading

Accenture: The New Energy Consumer: Unleashing Business Value in a Digital World