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PA IN THE MEDIA

Customer 4.0: How to leverage digital engagement and analytics to make your customers (and JD Power) happy

This article first appeared in Electric Light & Power.

A few years ago we created a “Customer Digital Roadmap” for utilities approaching a digital transformation. It detailed a journey where utilities could start small, scale up quickly, and share proactive notifications and confirmations with customers by the end.

We are now updating that roadmap to include digital engagement and analytics, effectively integrating all service channels into a seamless experience, perceived by customers as a single platform. So when customers need to contact a utility, predictive analytics can enable the customer to progress quickly to solution across channels:  web, app, social, text or voice. The use of social media monitoring and chat allow customers to interact with utilities directly. Ideally, this means that fewer calls are routed to customer service agents, and when they are, the agent is empowered to resolve.

Welcome to the customer 4.0 digital arm of the Next Generation Energy (NGE) utility

Recognizing customers are at the center of their own universe, not yours, is key to delivering a NGE Customer 4.0 experience. This means considering your customers goals in totality not just the piece of the energy pie under your control, and understanding that customers may not know about your service channels and simply want their query resolved easily.

In the Gartner CEB Customer Service Experience Survey they identified that 70% of customer transactions start outside of company-owned channels. So let’s consider how this common journey could be realized. Take for example, Jane, a new mother who is moving to a new state.  Ensuring her new home is ready for a new born is a big undertaking for a young family, and paramount is ensuring power is available. She has a range of options to identify who her new utility will be, from asking the realtor or a friend in the state to searching on Google. Yet, all options may result in a different outcome. The realtor or friend may correctly identify the utility but they might also share negative stories. If she goes to Google what will the results show? A Wikipedia list, an IOU or two, and perhaps discussion forums and news websites where she finds customer vitriol, expressing unhappiness across a range of issues from price to reliability. Not the best start to a new relationship.

Are you ready for Customer 4.0 revolution?

Find out more

How can utilities control the message?

A good starting point is to develop a channel strategy to include those channels outside of your immediate control. Understanding and grouping these channels based on what customers are trying to achieve and then developing individual approaches to those areas. Key to this is understanding a customer’s perspective based on which external channel they’ve come from. In the above example, Google search results that show the utility first with a sitelink to starting new service included in the result and knowing that individual is searching from out of state, would be optimum. Also, it is important to be aware and start influencing parts of the digital landscape outside your immediate control, perhaps choosing to advertise some of your community support activities or efforts your firm is undertaking with regard to increasing renewables and energy efficiency.

Once customers are routed inside your channels, it becomes vitally important that they can effectively be served, including making (what should be) the simple things easy, such as viewing and paying a bill, and viewing and reporting an outage. It’s here that consistency across channels becomes paramount, nothing fills a customer with doubt about the effectiveness of an organization like seeing the same result portrayed differently across channels. For example, “when I call the voice system, it says my power will be back on in two hours. When I look at the outage map it says eight hours; which source is correct?”

Better still, is pre-thinking these situations and allowing customers to sign up for proactive notifications through the channel of their choice. Knowing and understanding the likely reasons for customer contact is another tool in the modern digital toolkit. Previously this approach may have meant switching web platforms, today technologies allow you to track customer interactions with your channels, store the details of the anonymous interaction and consolidate them when the customer either signs up or signs in. This consolidated information allows utilities to predict the customer’s intent with far greater efficacy and provide the right link dynamically, making life easy for the customer. For example, after reviewing energy efficiency options, Jane logs in to pay her bill which is comparatively high for the month. Web/app/voice analytics can then predict:

  1. She is logging in to pay her bill.
  2. In advance of paying, advise her that it’s higher than normal with the likely reason (e.g., longer billing cycle, colder weather, greater energy consumption, etc.).
  3. After she has paid the bill an offer can be made to suggest effective ways she can reduce her bill, refined based on her browsing of energy efficiency products and services and our knowledge of her usage patterns.

And all of this analysis can be done dynamically, and personalized based to the customer by buying and configuring packaged solutions and/or developing a more broad data analytics platform that underpins and supports each of the use cases. The data analytics platform will typically be based upon a central repository with one or many analytics engines querying against it to determine trends and insights to support real time prediction and determine which content should be displayed.

This is not to say that customer call center agents will go away, and in some cases become even more critical. Analytics should be able to handle the majority of customer contacts and support agents to ensure that when a call is received they have easy access to prior contact history and a suggested next step(s) that progresses the contact, not restarts it. For example, Jane is trying to buy a thermostat but doesn’t understand the implications of joining a demand side management program. The agent will know Jane’s profile, understand what she is trying to achieve, and be able to explain the implications of joining and the extent that she will continue to have choice and control.

Clearly technology is advancing as quickly as customers’ expectations and figuring out what to do first can be daunting. That’s why we advise utilities to start

  • By thinking big. Develop a strategy and roadmap that fully meets the current and future need
  • By starting small. Prove the strategy can be effective by delivering quick wins
  • And scaling fast. Structure the program to be ready to source, execute and grow as rapidly as your strategy requires

A key component of any program that seeks to transform the customer experience is understanding early how it will impact the organization, and in our next article we will discuss ways to design and incorporate the attributes of a Customer 4.0 world into the business model.

Craig Rintoul is an energy and utilities expert at PA Consulting Group

Contact the author

  • Craig Rintoul

    Craig Rintoul

    PA energy and utilities expert

    Craig is a utility customer and digital transformation expert focused on improving the customer experience by designing strategies and digital enabled business programs.

    Insights by Craig Rintoul

Contact the energy and utilities team

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