The aim of every business should be to engage with customers in a thoughtful, meaningful and dynamic way. Since the utility, in certain parts of the world, finds itself in an increasingly competitive industry, it is crucial that the internal image of the customer is changed.
Customers are no longer simply ratepayers - they are now partners and stakeholders who are more intrinsically involved with the utility and without their willingness to participate, programs and strategies such as demand response have the potential to fail, costing a fortune in finance and time.
Instead of making assumptions about customers and what they expect, utilities need to engage directly via a wide variety of communication channels in order to gain a better understanding of what is expected.
Avoid basic misconceptions
Misconceptions of customers’ needs can prove to be costly. Here are a few to steer away from:
1 - All customers are the same. Many companies claim to have a customer-centered strategic game plan, but very few do. Utilities are still adopting the one-size-fits-all strategy when it comes to customer engagement but this point of view will certainly not reach a broad customer base. It is critical that utilities really get to know their customers by applying a flexible engagement plan and communicating via a wide range of channels. The plan should be designed to meet the unique needs of everyone throughout your customer base. Although many customers want the same products, what attracts different customers is often very different. Utilities should poll their customer bases regularly to find out how best to grab their attention.
2 - No news is good news. This way of thinking can quickly lead to a utility’s fast demise. Consumers expect to be informed about bad news, especially if it affects them directly such as an unplanned outage. Customers can be kept up to date via the many social media channels, as well as sms, email, television, internet and telephone. In addition, it is essential to regularly solicit feedback through surveys, questionnaires and opinion polls. Again, the wide variety of available channels should be used in order to touch base with a wide customer range. It is important to remember that many customers do not bother complaining or sharing feedback due to the effort, time and hassle that often accompanies such an endeavor. Therefore, little or no feedback from the customer can also be a bad thing.
3 - Apologies are a sign of weakness or worse -- admitting fault. Not at all. In fact customers appreciate an apology after a mishap has occurred. Although this process can be humbling for a company, it can enhance long-term customer loyalty. Utilities need to train their customer-service personnel to apologize on behalf of the company in a professional manner. If this is not carried out properly, the utility stands to lose customers who may have stayed. Sincerity is the focus here.
4 - Customers don't care about the reasons. Actually, they do. After a well-delivered apology, customers want an explanation. It may be worth explaining what will be done to avoid the same problem from occurring again. Whether it’s an unplanned outage or incorrect billing, customers will want an explanation. After all, they are paying for the service.
5 - Unhappy customers won’t return. Customers are more forgiving than companies generally give them credit for. And even if they choose to not forgive the utility’s billing department for sending an incorrect account three times in a row, they will probably forget about the mishap over time. If utilities continue to strive to offer good customer service and quality products, then the core following is sure to return.
6 - Consumers don't care about a company’s culture, social and environmental actions. The millennial generation may turn out to be the most expansive, dynamic and philanthropically minded one of all time. It is therefore critical that utilities recalibrate their mind-set about its visible workplace culture and social responsibility. Today, customers want to know what goes on behind the scenes too.
Gaining better knowledge of who the customers really are and what they need most (apart from quality customer service) is the best way to retain them over the long term.