Is it true that most energy customers do not notice their energy service providers until they get unusually high bills, or their supply is disrupted? Well if so, some energy companies got the wrong kind of attention earlier this year!
In February this year, unusually strong winter storms caused a statewide electrical grid failure in Texas – triggering blackouts and power outages that lasted for days. Over 4.3 million people were left without power. Even those who had intermittent power received massive electricity bills following the storm due to the variable pricing system in place. Needless to say, this led to customer frustration. Many subscribers voted with their feet and even switched to other providers. Not the most gratifying customer experience, one could say.
So, how can energy companies handle customer experience (CX)?
Energy consumers now have access to mobile phones and social media platforms to publicly escalate their concerns. On the other hand, the energy sector remains traditional and ill-equipped to meet the needs of the modern customer.
Importance of Customer Experience for Energy Companies
Looking elsewhere for some clues, a study by Echo Managed Services found that 34% of UK consumers regularly switch utility providers for better service. Energy companies that can deliver an optimum CX through fair prices, correct energy readings, and instant resolution of issues, do manage to attract and retain their customer base.
Energy companies haven’t really prioritized customer experience – primarily because of the market monopoly or low customer expectations. However, with changing customer profiles and deregulation creeping across the sector, companies realize that it’s time to invest in innovative technologies and processes to build stronger bonds with customers.
How does investing in a better customer experience benefit energy companies?
- Reduction in customer churn
Customer churn rates go down for energy companies that engage with their consumers. Over 60% of consumers leave because of high electricity costs. While high prices are inevitable in many places, consumer retention can be managed by methods like sending alerts about high consumption – or by helping them with tips to reduce their consumption.
- Timely payments
Many customers miss payment deadlines due to preventable reasons including forgetting their payment deadline date. Others are unable to afford an unusually high bill. Outstanding payment collection is a major challenge – and cost – for energy companies. Sending reminders before the payment date can help. Adopting a positive and friendly approach could also help. For instance, a text message about the payment not being received – along with a convenient payment link as well as offering staggered payment options.
- Customer loyalty
Exceptional CX can help energy companies win their customer loyalty. Rather than spamming consumers with loads of emails or messages, utility providers should recognize customer pain points – like getting uninterrupted services at affordable rates – and address them proactively.
Among all the challenges that energy companies have to deal with, customer experience is growing in priority. Here are some major CX-linked challenges:
1. Customer Relationships
33% of customers switch energy companies because of poor customer service. Service levels can impact customer trust and relationships built over many years.
To proactively boost your customer relationships, you need to actively drive meaningful interactions with consumers through different communication channels like mobile apps, messages, and calls.
Here are some things you can communicate to your customer base and deliver value:
- Any regular and unanticipated maintenance work that could impact customers.
- Tips on how to stay safe during adverse weather conditions like storms or hurricanes.
- Timely payment reminders to every consumer
California’s Pacific Gas and Energy created a digital center of excellence to assist its employees and customers. Their mobile app allows their field crew to work safely and efficiently. It also provides customer information.
2. Lack of innovation
There is rising sensitivity towards climate change and customers are more aware of the environment. The modern consumer loves to be associated with energy companies that focus on environmental sustainability. That apart, millennials and Gen Z are eager to adopt new digital solutions. The challenge for the energy sector is to open its traditional ways and processes to a new world of digital innovations.
As a utility company, Xcel Energy took positive steps in this direction when it collaborated with a technology company to install smart meters across its service areas. These intelligent meters aimed to improve reliability, efficiency, and security while also allowing customers to take advantage of dynamic pricing and lower their bills by using energy at non-peak times.
3. Gaps in technology
Good customer relationships can be maintained only when energy companies can stay connected with their customers. This is possible with customer-centric technologies such as:
- Mobile apps that can track energy usage and suggest ways of reducing consumption.
- Online platforms for paying bills on time and availing of other value-added services.
- Big Data Analytics to help understand consumer preferences and predict future scenarios to prepare for.
- Timely notification systems that can send customer alerts related to service-related issues and disruptions.
- User-friendly chatbots for interacting with consumers and addressing their issues.
Technologies like Artificial intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT), and machine learning now offer viable solutions for the future of CX in energy companies. For instance, powered by AI, FlexGrid is an off-grid solution that is being used to supply electricity to over 10,000 villages in South Mali that lack any access to the national electric grid in the region.
With so many disruptions impacting the energy sector, digital solutions could play a crucial role in transforming the customer experience for energy companies. If you want to turn your energy company into a dynamic future-focused business, then this is a great time to associate yourself with Sciera, an analytics firm that specializes in the “insights into data” journey for energy companies. Contact us today with your queries.