How do you set about improving utilities customer engagement when switching providers is super easy, and brand loyalty is flailing in the quest to find a better deal?
Changing consumer habits and increased competition have left utilities battling to keep customers engaged, which in many cases has contributed to falling customer retention.
In this article, we’ll outline how a software-led approach to improving B2C communications, and therefore customer engagement has the potential to help utilities companies retain customers.
Differentiating commodities through choice
Utilities have become commodities. Some commentators put worsening customer engagement down to changes in consumer perception and purchasing habits. While price is an obvious focus for some, others are concerned about how the environmental impact of non-renewables is being tackled, or if their customer service is exemplary. Given how similar utility provision is from one supplier to the next, the customer can pick the most appealing provider on enhance grounds of choice.
Quality customer interactions and service
While utilities providers may not have much room to self-differentiate on product, the same is not true with regards their customer service.
Last year, a Citizens Advice Bureau (UK) study into customer experience of energy providers illustrated this point when it revealed significant variation in how customers rated their suppliers on a five-star scale. Ecotricity came out on top with 4.4/5, while Extra Energy was rock bottom with 2.05/5.
Clearly, customer interactions provide a rare chance for utilities providers to set themselves apart.
Easier sharing of customer information
A long-standing problem with utilities companies’ customer interactions has been the lack of pertinent information at sales/customer service agents’ disposal. With multiple communication channels involved, and almost certainly multiple team members too, keeping track of the moments that matter to customers has been an insurmountable task.
According to a recent Accenture report on customer-centricity, communication time between utilities suppliers and customers averages out at a mere 10 minutes per year. If your support agent in the field or your sales agent at the call centre does not have up-to-date information on the company’s relationship with the customer, they’re likely to spend much of that crucial contact time repeating steps and frustrating the customer.
This information deficit creates essentially transactional relationships that discourage brand loyalty. Some providers are working to improve this situation. By leveraging better-informed communications to facilitate better-engaged customer relationships, they can build trust and good feeling. This can be achieved using software that pulls customer information and interactions into a central, digital location, which can be accessed at any moment by the team members who need it.
Not only can this approach enhance B2C communications, it can also support cross-departmental communication to solve customer cases. With this approach, we no longer have a fragmented team coaxing the same information out of the customer again and again. Instead, we have a well-integrated team which has consistently listened and logged any customer details which could have longer-term relevance.
The software to create this enhanced situation would typically be delivered in the form of an application, accessed via tablet or smartphone by agents in the field; and via desktop by their managers at the office.
Omnichannel and a single customer view (SCV)
Now we’ve touched on how software can help improve B2C communications (and therefore customer engagement), let’s get to grips with the central concepts behind the required technology.
Above all, using software to improve communications to utilities customers will rely upon the capability to create a single customer view (SCV), by bringing together every channel of communication – including telephone, email and SMS – into a single system. This allows the sales agent who is responding to a customer’s query to look back through their interaction history and learn more about the case, for example.
Alongside communication logs, the SCV might also include account details including live data from the customer’s smart meter, which may cut the time it takes to handle customer problems.
How rich customer interaction data can help de-escalate complaints
The especially advantageous thing about omnichannel customer support in a single channel view is that providers stand to get more out of it over time, thanks to the gradual accrual of actionable customer data.
For example, some utilities providers can predict when a customer will next make a complaint, by looking at how much they’ve complained oven a certain time period. A few have even reported the ability to predict will a customer will take a case to the ombudsman. Such insights make it possible to intervene sensitively in customer interactions, effectively defusing them before they escalate to a more serious level.
Software-supported customer interactions: how to make it happen
Utilities providers interested in switching to omnichannel communications are faced with a choice between investing in third-party software, or having their developers create a new solution from scratch. With effective application, either approach will give your team the ease-of-communication and information access needed to keep customers engaged.
If you have any questions on this, or any Utilities-related queries, please get in touch with the team:
Grace Moore/Amy Keith