Most Utilities Already Possess Foundations to Deploy High-Impact Customer Engagement Programs
The cost of customer engagement reported in various white papers, infographics, and consulting decks does a disservice to utilities and their customers.
Utility executives face an onslaught of reports on the need to modernize customer engagement in the era of Amazon, Netflix, and Apple. Reports cite the rise of disruptive populations, like Millennials and Gen Z, who prefer to conduct business exclusively online. Others cite the need to drive costly and unfamiliar, omni-channel programs to engage customers all the time and everywhere.
“The most challenging studies and reports underline the high cost of technology and services required to engage with customers. A lot of this material seems designed to inspire fear among utility executives to motivate the purchase of expensive software or expert consulting engagements. We think it distorts the point,” said Jeff Cox, President of ibex Digital.
At ibex, nearly all of the utilities that we speak with already possess the fundamental tools to improve customer engagement and satisfaction without the need for costly software or consulting projects. Utilities long ago shifted perspective from ‘rate payer’ to ‘customer,’ so we see understanding the customer headspace as a short step forward, not a leap.
Success simply requires a modest change in perspective about the customer lifecycle. Customers have come to expect more personalized engagement with their service providers–utilities included. Utilities can meet that need just by thinking in terms of relevant, timely, and personalized communication. Achieving positive results does not require special tools, new software platforms, or expert frameworks. A basic assessment of the customer lifecycle provides the foundation for multiple engagement strategies that can easily be made relevant, timely, and personal to utility customers.
“That approach does require utilities to think differently about how often they communicate with customers, though, and expand their methods digitally with email, SMS, and social,” says Michael Darwal, ibex Chief Digital Officer. “Utilities have well established processes and communication plans for managing monthly bills and statements, dealing with billing questions or disputes, and resolving outages. However, those infrequent communications don’t establish a direct and ongoing digital dialogue with customers,” cautioned Darwal.
Utilities should examine their customer lifecycle and look for the most effective opportunities to inject new themes to their communication program to inspire dynamic customer engagement. At ibex, we recommend a few simple measures to get the best results and quality interactions with customers:
- Make it seasonal. Nearly every customer within a utility’s service area faces the same seasonal changes in predictable fashion. Utilities can use those cycles to communicate across their entire customer base in very relevant and timely fashion. Informative outreach via email and bill supplements, reminding customers to get an AC check-up before the summer begins, or checking their furnace in the Fall, helps customers prepare for the change in season and avoid unexpected spikes in energy bills. Social programs on Facebook can introduce customers in the utility footprint to the availability of special programs and offer a link or phone number to get more information and begin the digital dialogue.
- Make it timely. Utilities often do not manage responsive digital campaigns, but a timely email or text message following a customer interaction demonstrates a utility’s level of engagement. Follow up a customer’s first login for online bill pay with a text message to say “thanks” and affirmg the benefits of paperless billing. When a customer calls with a billing issue, send an email or SMS invitation to sign up for the mobile app to track payments and billing questions. These customers feel more connected and will more likely engage with future emails, texts, or alerts on the utility smartphone app.
- Keep it relevant AND personal. No one likes spam, but email continues to be a powerful e-commerce stimulus. The trick to high conversion email programs is the relevance of the digital content. For instance, a global email offering surge protection ahead of storm season could be a great seasonal campaign. However, customers who already subscribe might feel alienated by a lower cost promotion, when another seasonal offer may have been more appropriate. Simply grooming the campaign profiles and management of email and Facebook promotions ensures that utility customers receive and interact with the right message for them.
Cutting edge technology, expert advice, and creative frameworks certainly may amplify the value of a utility customer engagement program, but they shouldn’t be considered a prerequisite to getting started on that journey. Utilities with the ability to send email, launch simple social campaigns, and deliver bill supplements to their customers already possess the tools to start a dialogue with their customers, if they are willing to think a bit outside the box and learn a few lessons from other industries.
ibex offers customer engagement solutions and e-commerce marketplaces to utilities interested in expanding their digital ecosystem and connecting with their customers in new ways.
To learn more about our lifecycle customer engagement programs, or any of the utility connection solutions available from ibex, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.