The times have changed for traditional utility monopolies. Customers are not just meters at the end of a bill anymore; they demand better quality service, accessible information, and on-demand support. Between changing customer service expectations, increased competition through deregulation, and costly government fines on unresolved customer complaints, utility providers are being forced to rethink their strategies and respond to these evolving conditions.
While many utility companies are investing in technology to improve operational efficiency and automate business processes, one of the most significant transformations we are seeing is in the customer experience.
The utilities industry is unique when it comes to customer retention. Traditionally, when you purchased electricity or gas, the provider didn’t need to have any other products or services to upsell or cross-sell you. They didn’t need to keep you happy because as consumers, we didn’t have many options to choose from. This resulted in a company culture that didn’t really focus on the customer at all. Knowing that their customers were always going to be there, most utility companies didn’t need to put in the time to properly collect data, map the customer journey, and manage customer relationships.
In today’s competitive customer-centric world, you can’t prevent customer churn with that mentality. Technology is enabling new entrants to the market, and utility companies need to figure out a way to engage customers and improve the overall experience. That’s why customer relationship management (CRM) is creating a real shift in focus for the utilities sector and what we will be covering in this post.
The Impact of the Customer Experience in the Utilities Sector
While the pace of deregulation has varied across regions and industries, globalization, privatization, and market restructuring have led to new players entering the utility market, competitive pricing, and more customer choice. On top of that, customers have more knowledge than ever before. They don’t want a paper bill every month and no contact with their utility provider. Fueled by transparency, they know exactly what they want from their customer experience and won’t stick around if they aren’t getting it.
Here are some of the basic services that customers today expect from their utility provider:
- Track utility usage every month
- Easily view and pay bills online
- Regular communication and support from the provider
- Access to value-added services or tools
- Effortless experience across all service channels
What this means for utility providers everywhere is plain and simple: if you don’t improve the customer experience and change the way you deliver services, you will lose valuable customers.
A recent study that surveyed over 6,250 customers of the top 25 utility providers in the U.S., both regulated and deregulated, showed that finding new ways to attract, engage, and retain customers can also lead to significant cost savings. 80% of the customers surveyed said they would be willing to forgo the call center completely if utility providers offered an ideal online experience. The 25 providers included in the survey stand to save a collective $208 million a year if they achieve call-center deflection.
Customer Relationship Management (CRM) for Utilities
With effective customer-centric software and strategy in place, utility providers around the world are making an effort to improve service delivery and the customer experience. Below, we have outlined 6 areas that CRM solutions are making an impact in the utility sector today:
- Customer Insight
Utility companies are uniquely positioned to collect and analyze a ton of data from customers, from both individuals and businesses. With a CRM solution in place, your employees can easily gather and use data in every interaction. Not only does this help you gain deep insight into your customers preferences, usage, behaviors, and service requirements – it also will help you grow your product and service offerings to meet their needs better.
- Salesforce and Technician Management
While your sales team is responsible for managing existing accounts and acquiring new accounts, your technicians are responding to outages and dealing with current customers. Using an integrated CRM solution, every employee can get access to the real-time information they need to deliver exceptional service, manage potential accounts, and keep management informed on progress.
- Process Integration
With the right CRM system in place, you can improve the flow of transactions, from meter reading to billing to online payments. This will help streamline your internal processes while making it easy for a customer to set up, change, or upgrade their services.
- Customer Self-Service
Customers want to be able to manage their billing, payments, and consumption information on their own. We’re seeing a lot more utility companies implement online services or self-service portals for usage tracking, payments, and complaint logging. A great example of this is BC Hydro and Power Authority, a Canadian electric utility company who uses Microsoft Dynamics CRM and a customer portal to empower customers to manage usage, services, and payments on their own, as well as keep them informed and prepared on outages.
- Analytics and Customer-Case Metrics
To build a culture of continuous improvement, it’s important to establish metrics that track performance and impact. These metrics can measure customer satisfaction, job performance, customer insights, operational performance – anything that get your company working towards a common goal or benchmark.
Your customers expect to engage on all levels and platforms, so you need a software solution that allows you to track and respond to every inquiry. Improved communication between utility provider and the end user will put you on a clear path to improved transparency and a better customer relationship.
Prepare your Utility Business for Digital Transformation
With the right CRM solution in place, utility providers can deliver a better customer experience at a lower cost. At OnActuate, we have experience working in the utility industry and providing digital transformation through technology and organizational change. We can help prepare you for your customer’s changing needs and help you adapt your service offerings to meet those demands.
Contact our team today to find out more about how CRM can help attract new customers and keep your current customers happy.