In today’s energy world much of the focus is on residential customers and the large commercial and industrials. But what about the group in between, the small and medium businesses (SMEs)?
The SME market has long been known to be a challenge for energy providers. A new study from Accenture indicates that it still appears to be. In a survey of nearly 3,800 SMEs across North and South America, Europe and Asia Pacific, almost 60% indicated that their energy providers’ current products, services and support were either not tailored to their business needs or were the same as those for residential customers with their different needs.
At the same time, the SMEs indicated that they would value great customer experience and are receptive to digital engagement. Indeed over 40% saw products and services personalised to their business needs and preferences as their prime satisfaction factor.
The survey also revealed that SMEs are more likely to try new products and services as business customers than they are as residential customers. Additionally, there is the possibility of a ripple effect towards residential customers with the majority of SMEs interested or already participating in a digital energy engagement programme very likely to recommend their provider to those customers.
Value for service providers
The obvious effect of this demand for a tailored approach towards SMEs is the added value it can provide to service providers.
For example, in competitive markets in Europe, an average-sized retail energy provider could unlock up to approximately US$37m in net benefits over a five-year SME customer digital transformation programme with tailored services, according to Tony Masella, who leads Accenture’s Energy Retail and Customer Services practice.
“The SME segment tends to be forgotten, yet it offers significant value for providers using digital channels in the new energy ecosystem,” he says.
As an example of such opportunities, the survey found that two-thirds of the SMEs believed that digital agents could give them tailored business advice as they draw from more information sources.
SMEs also are interested in mutually beneficial partnership opportunities with their energy providers. For instance, almost half said they are interested in solar power sharing programmes in which they could partner with their energy providers to co-own and co-operate solar panels on their business premises in exchange for a bill discount. A similar number cited an interest in teaming with their energy provider to offer new energy-related products and services through their business to generate new revenues, such as a grocery store selling energy efficient thermostats to its customers.
Time is not unlimited for traditional energy providers to engage with their SME customers. While the majority of SMEs would prefer to do business with their traditional providers, almost 60% indicated they also would consider their phone, internet or cable provider or consumer electronics company when purchasing energy-related products and services.
Accenture offers four steps to delivering engagement with SMEs, with the ‘connected experience’ combining digital channels with digital engagement programmes at the heart. Examples of product and service opportunities cited include beyond the meter offerings such as automated energy management, distributed resources such as solar and battery solutions and installation and maintenance services.
To move forward Accenture suggests that the topic should be elevated to the executive suite highlighting the value and return on investments. Customer engagement moments that matter should be designed to enable customer success and to promote loyalty and differentiate the brand. There should be insights with feedback and data sharing to build trust. In doing this, an ‘ecosystem mindset’ is needed that considers customers as extensions of their businesses and enablers of emerging business models.
“The competition highlights the urgency for traditional energy providers to act now,” Masella says in conclusion. “To land new customers, energy providers need to offer programmes with tailored business insights from customers’ data, deliver an interactive connected energy experience and make these services an effortless experience.”