The most successful business customer engagement programmes think broader than an IT project, says Domenic Armano, Vice President, Customer Success, FirstFuel Software.
The business side of an energy company needs to own the deployment “by getting people on board with the project, building internal support and commitment, while IT supports the underlying structure and keeps the project running,” he says.
Armano, who has worked on more than 30 utility implementations with the US tech company, told Engerati that energy companies should view customer engagement as a strategic programme that integrates into utility-wide systems, processes and teams.
FirstFuel Software supplies a cloud-based business consumer engagement platform to help energy companies convert business customers’ energy data into insights and drive improved customer satisfaction, increased revenues, and decreased service costs.
The company manages more than 100m meter reads per day and Armano says the experience of working at scale has allowed the company to reflect on past deployments and highlight key themes for a successful implementation.
Technology implementation - managing internal change
FirstFuel, which works with energy providers in the US and Europe, begins the deployment process with a “rock solid change management programme” which starts with defining a utility’s goals.
These vary from supplier to supplier but common objectives are increasing customer satisfaction through higher net promoter scores, upselling to existing business energy customers, or reducing the overall cost to serve.
Armano says at the early stage of the deployment he is “not shy about emphasising the importance of executive sponsorship and team involvement. If they think they can just install this platform and the benefits will come by just sitting back, then they’re wrong. I want them to succeed.”
He adds: “Energy companies are investing in change and that change is both technical and business-related. If they want to reap the rewards, they need to put time and effort into it.”
Customer engagement software - steps to good deployment
The integration of a business customer engagement platform is straightforward says Armano and the platform is deployed without major disruption to a utility’s existing systems.
A key role in a successful deployment is that of a good programme manager who understands the goals and objectives and helps keep the deployment on track.
Crucially the programme manager can also act as an intermediary between the energy company’s business and technical teams.
Armano, however, views the most important piece of the deployment puzzle to be data configuration.
FirstFuel’s Software as a Service platform and its subsequent use to engage business energy customers relies on access to data in “a useable, normalised way”, says Armano.
The key to success here is allocating technical resources that can span both information technology and business teams.
Tidying up your energy company's shop window
Once the data is cleaned up and able to run through a customer engagement platform, the next step is to manage the customer-facing side of your offering.
Armano, in a blog posting on the subject, likens the importance of content management to walking into your favourite shop, only to find that week after week the products on the shelves haven’t changed. And the hottest gadget on the shelves is a record player.
Transfer the analogy to an energy provider’s website and business energy customers are unlikely to engage with stale content. And from an energy suppliers’ perspective, they need an impressive shop window from which to sell new energy products and services such as building retrofits.
“This is especially important for utility companies in deregulated markets, where you want to increase your competitive advantage by branching into new, non-commodity product and service offerings,” says Armano.
Reaching out to business energy customers
The last step in an effective deployment is alerting both customers and internal teams to the fact you have new digital channels. Surprisingly, this step is often overlooked by energy suppliers, says Armano, who remarks that a “build it and they will come attitude” will not help meet project objectives.
Marketing and promotion programmes, using digital channels such as landing pages, email, search engine optimisation and video, are therefore crucial to driving customer awareness of and engagement with the platform.
Add direct communications into the mix and you can expect to see a measurable uplift in web traffic, says Armano.
Once customers log into the site, they’ll have access to on-demand, personalised energy insights and recommendations. Making this information easily available to business customers will improve their customer experience and satisfaction and, ultimately, increase customer loyalty.
It is equally important to make sure internal teams, like customer service and account management, understand and utilise the new customer engagement tools.
FirstFuel can help bring internal teams up to speed by providing training and case studies of how the new functionality can be used. For example, FirstFuel provides a call script so that call centre staff can give business customers a one-to-one tour through of the new digital functionality and relevant features.
Armano says without following these critical steps, a platform deployment is unlikely to deliver an improved customer experience or meet key performance indicators such as energy customer engagement and satisfaction.
“To sum up, energy companies need to understand the value of the investment to their entire organisation and make room for it within the business. They need to start slow to go fast.”
Learn more about FirstFuel’s approach to engaging business energy customers in a live energy webinar co-branded with Engerati. Register now for ‘How to engage business customers with cloud-based tools’.