How is digital engagement bridging the gap between what customers want from energy providers and what they are receiving?
Global management consultancy Accenture released the latest version of its annual New Energy Consumer report this past quarter. The study highlighted 11 factors that customers feel are important in increasing their satisfaction with energy providers.
The results won’t surprise you. The top five criteria of customer satisfaction were consistently getting bills correct, providing reliable energy delivery, easy to understand pricing information, efficient customer service and supplying information on how to improve energy efficiency.
In addition to these, respondents also ranked energy suppliers connecting them with certified home and energy service providers, offering the latest energy-related technology, being actively involved in the local community, and making investments to build their brand awareness as less significant.
What should make energy providers sit up and listen though is the disparity between what the customer feels is important to them and how well they think their energy supplier is meeting their key needs.
Based on their experience to date, 86% of respondents felt their energy supplier was doing a good job of getting their bill correct compared to 95% ranking this the most important factor in increasing their customer satisfaction.
The largest gap between expectation and actual service delivery was related to pricing information. Ranked third most important at 94%, the reality was only 78% felt that energy suppliers were doing a good job in making tariffs clear and easy to understand.
The message from the survey is that customers have a defined set of ways in which they can feel satisfied with your service. And they expect to have good service delivery across every touch point, both digital and non-digital.
A good interaction with billing information on your website or changing a tariff with a customer service representative who understands the customer’s individual consumption patterns creates a positive customer experience, which ultimately leads to increased customer satisfaction and a positive net promoter score (NPS).
In a nutshell, NPS is a metric that demonstrates how likely your customer is to recommend and promote your company to a colleague or friend. NPS has become a tangible way to gauge how well businesses are doing in improving customer satisfaction and loyalty within their own company and against their competitors.
Wytse Kaastra, Managing Director, Energy Consumer Services for Europe, Africa & Latin America, at Accenture, told Engerati that the consultancy is seeing NPS being used more and more in the utility market as a key performance indicator.
Kaastra sums up the value of NPS as helping utilities “out of the commodity trap” by allowing them to engage customers and sell in high-value services that are personal to the end user and help differentiate them from other energy suppliers.
Kaastra says one method to improve customer satisfaction is by using digital instruments such as data analytics platforms. “These give energy companies the opportunity to provide more value to business customer relationships without having to invest large amounts of money in sending more staff into the field,” he said.
Data can help drive an enhanced customer experience as part of a digital engagement strategy, says Domenic Armano, Vice President, Customer Success, at FirstFuel, a US-based digital engagement company that uses data analytics to personalise utility-customer interactions. Armano likens digital engagement to a shop window or a way to draw customers in.
What energy customers find in the ‘shop’ is up to utilities to define but he advises that the best way to increase engagement levels is to design a customer journey that creates a positive view of the utility from the minute they receive a welcome email.
Armano explains that utilities have the opportunity to improve NPS by enhancing communications from their websites. “At the moment, many energy providers’ websites and communications are one-way, pushing out information that they feel is relevant. To improve NPS, utilities need to have a two-way dialogue with the customer, which not only delivers more value for the customer, but also has a higher value for the energy supplier.”
Armano says another touchpoint and opportunity to improve business customer satisfaction is to proactively contact customers with a relevant service to alleviate one of their problems, such as offering energy efficiency solutions during spells of hot weather.
US utility Baltimore Gas and Electric used FirstFuel’s data analytics platform to identify which customers to target for their energy efficiency incentive programmes.
Jeff Jerome, Product Manager, C&I Energy Efficiency at Baltimore Gas and Electric (BGE), said: “We recently launched our Analytics Enabled Building Tune-Up programme, which offers our business customers financial incentives for implementing relatively low-cost operational and maintenance improvements in their buildings.
“The programme is powered by customer analytics which enable us to deliver building-specific energy efficiency recommendations to each of our customers.
“So, rather than presenting our customers with a laundry list of all our available programmes, we're able to use analytics reports to present customers with specific recommendations, along with the associated savings and potential rebates.
Jerome says that account representatives now have better tools to “actively engage our customers and build lasting relationships - and we're seeing measurable results like improved customer participation and improved customer satisfaction."
Accenture’s Kaastra says it doesn’t take long to roll out a digital engagement programme - this could be deployed within eight to nine weeks - but the biggest hurdle to overcome is internal process and governance. “This type of programme used to sit as an extension of IT within a utility but where we have seen success is when digital engagement is put into the business with service innovation.”
Armano concludes with his best advice for energy suppliers. First understand your customers, then decide how you want to interact with them and finally what result you want to achieve. You can then use this list of outcomes to map the customer’s journey to satisfaction and ultimately a higher NPS.