Utilities must engage with customers now or lose market share to new players like Google seeking to provide energy services, according to new research from Tendril, a US software platform for energy service management.
Energy providers should model customer service and engagement techniques used by telecommunication service providers, says 'It’s a Consumer-Centric World: How the Energy Industry Must Power Up to Improve Customer Satisfaction', released this week.
It says: "Consumers get what they want from their telcos. They have an array of devices to choose from and they buy what suits their needs. Then, [customers] customize these devices to fit their preferences.
These same consumers want similar interactions with their energy providers- personalization and control in managing their energy consumption and expenses, and personalization, automation and diversity from the companies that bring them power.
The paper outlines five best practices to hit the "moving target" of customer satisfaction and engagement.
The first is set customer engagement as a company objective.
Tendril says "Simple but critical—improving customer satisfaction must matter across the board, at the broadest and narrowest levels of energy providers’ operations.
"Selecting a customer engagement leader is vital, but the mission must permeate all departments and positions."
Connect with customer
Second, use data to develop practical solutions for customers and communicate in a way that "resonates" with them personally.
"Aggregating data points on a multitude of factors provides the most useful insights," said the study.
"Software systems should process together information on customers’ homes—including building materials used, appliances installed and locations—as well as their real-time local weather, their patterns of energy usage, billing history, and basic demographics.
Holistic approach to data
The third step to better customer engagement is holistic data analysis, according to the Colorado-based software company.
The research says "by bringing in third-party data on this customer, like the age and size of their home, their demographic information and more, energy providers can get a more holistic understanding.
"Armed with this information, energy providers can better tailor their service offerings."
Conducting home audits (via an in-person visit or online) can also "fill in the gaps between statistical data points, creating much more comprehensive customer profiles."
Right tools for customers
The fourth way to satisfy customers' changing demands from energy suppliers is delivering communication mechanisms that blend with their lifestyles - whether portals, mobile apps, home energy audits or proactive alerts.
"The most successful mechanisms will blend right in to customers’ lifestyles and they’ll be accessible via the mobile devices customers already own.
"They’ll operate intuitively, like all the best apps do, and with little work on the customers’ parts, they’ll deliver all the information customers need: past and present usage patterns (as well as projections for the future), proactive alerts, options for curbing consumption, choices for incorporating renewables, viewing bills and methods to pay them."
And the final step is communication, according to Tendril.
Utilities can use their customers' levels of connectivity with social and mobile media, to share news of upcoming peak events, unusual consumption alerts and impending outages.
The study found that proactive outbound communication from utilities also tends to reduce the number of inbound calls necessary to field from confused customers.
The report concludes that while telecom companies thrive on change, energy companies can also thrive by responding to the needs of their buyers "despite undoing a 100-year precedent of business-as-usual".