Customer Loyalty Should Matter

Forget about cost-reduction and keep your customer happy!
Published: Tue 25 Mar 2014

Utilities often think that it’s all about price and cost reduction. They spend most of their time figuring out how to serve the customer in the most economical way possible. But, with the market becoming increasingly competitive, it’s not only about price anymore. Utilities are beginning to realize just how valuable their customers are and can be.

Offering the customer more

Utilities are now having to engage with their customers and learn how to serve them better, as well as bring the cost base down. Changes in technology and services give utilities the opportunity to get customers more involved and excited about what’s on offer.

The highly competitive market is forcing utilities to offer their customers a broader set of energy solutions. For instance, customers have the ability to generate their own power now-this is an opportunity for utilities to provide specific products and services to support this trend.

In addition to this, emotions and values of customers are increasingly coming into play in their desire for clean and sustainable energy solutions which utilities can and should offer.

Exceed customers’ expectations

One may ask how utilities should go about building these emotional relationships with their existing customer base.

Utilities already have more interactions with their customers than they might realize. For instance, customers are already reaching out to the utility to enquire about their utility bills, tariffs, and house moves. They also complain or raise issues about power cuts or other servicing concerns.

Basically, there are many existing touch points where utilities can make a significant difference. But it’s not just about fixing the basics and building on those alone. It is more complex than that.

Utilities win customers on price—initially. But, service will determine whether they stay or not. So while it is critical to get the basics right, utilities need to go further than that and exceed expectations in order to keep the customer.

For example, many bills are paid late, not because people don’t have the money, but because they have changed their bank accounts or have simply forgotten to pay. Instead of sending threatening letters right away, the utility should instead remind the customer and extend the collection process slightly. This will earn the goodwill of customers, especially those who have always paid on time in the past.

Utilities can also find innovative ways to “wow” their customers. E.ON in London has offered customers the chance to pay their energy bills with loyalty points from Tesco, a supermarket chain-with a 50% bonus.

The value of frontline staff

Frontline staff, especially in customer service offices and call centers, are critical to the success of the utility since there is not much direct contact with the customer. Companies are even starting to change Human Resource policies and focus more on hiring for attitude than for technical skills. It’s much easier to teach technical skills than to teach the right attitude toward customers. Successful companies realize the power of the frontline since employees generally understand the customers’ needs the most due to frequent interaction. Companies are also investing in processes that will get real-time feedback from customers on how to better serve them.

Many companies invest in better customer relationship management capabilities and new software, but that is expensive and takes time. Utilities have legacy systems with industry interfaces that cost hundreds of millions to change. However, while utilities wait for these valuable system updates, customer insights capabilities can be established so that existing data can be segmented and mapped with surveys and other externally available data to get a rough customer perspective.

A happy customer is money well-spent

While a happy customer may not necessarily consume more power, the opportunity to up-sell and cross-sell will become a reality as utilities adapt to a highly competitive market. In the future, if utilities want customers to choose them for differentiated energy solutions, they will have a much better chance if they have happy customers on their books.

In addition to this, a happy customer is money well spent as churn is picking up and it costs a lot of money to acquire new customers.