Q&A: The Future of CX for Utilities

InMoment’s Senior Director, Client Services for EMEA Simon Fraser spoke at the Future of Utilities conference in London last week where leaders from the UK and EU gathered to discuss the challenges and opportunities the sector faces today and into the future.

A primary theme of the event is building strong relationships with customers. Fraser addressed the attendees in a presentation titled “Optimise your customer experience: five steps to achieve both relationship and business objectives.”

Q: What challenges does the UK/EU utilities sector face when it comes to customer experience (CX)?

A: The main challenge is that they’re perceived to be lagging behind other industries, having come to CX later than other industries. Over the past decade, the brands in highly competitive consumer sectors like retail and hospitality have pushed each other to offer exceptional customer experiences that were unheard of just a few short years ago. While the utilities sector is now starting to foster its own competitive environment, they don’t have the luxury of competing only against each other; consumer expectations have shifted overall expectations enough that even industries with minimal competitive ties are held to a higher standard.

At this point, even enterprises that have more similarities to the utilities companies—banks and telecoms for example—have a few years’ head start on them. So, in short, the challenge is needing to accelerate their CX maturity and leapfrog some of the early phases that the pioneering industries pushed through. That can be taken as a positive, as well, though. If they can look beyond just the processes and journeys they and their competitors are offering to learn from top consumer companies, they can absolutely make up the ground and start winning on loyalty.

Q: What is behind these challenges?

A: First off, the complexity of a utilities company—the number of moving parts, the infrastructure involved, the elements outside of their control—slows down pace of change, even if the desired changes are already decided. Another challenge for the utilities sector is what I’d call a true “first-world problem”: Customers are conditioned to take their services for granted. Heating, cooling, electricity—those are all things that are expected to simply work, so they are only really thought about when something has gone wrong.

Consequently, customer experience is definitely still largely done in a reactive manner. Additionally, there haven’t been the breakthroughs or novelties to make it top of mind for most consumers—though the Internet of Things (IoT) and smart home technologies are starting to change that a little bit.

Q: What are you seeing in the way of customer experience innovation from this group?

A: While it might not be properly termed “innovation” at this point, what I’m seeing from the utilities sector is the beginnings of bringing all stakeholders together around the customer. Again, with their complex structures, these companies have a silo challenge that fights against a consistent experience. Also, the area where they are starting to modernise is with their online presence. Those companies that have moved meter reading online and are allowing customers greater access into their energy consumption through websites and mobile apps are starting to show customers there is some new quality being added.

Q: What is the most important advice you would give utilities executives in achieving success in their customer experience initiatives?

A: The starting point for making needed changes is simply talking about the customer at the highest levels. Top executive leaders need to be changing the lens by making it a talking point. That is definitely the first thing. Secondly, they need to turn up the volume of those conversations publicly. They must do a better job promoting the changes they’re making. Even when utilities companies have made advances or done things for the communities they support, they have done a poor job of getting press. As they make more changes in their strategies, they will get much more goodwill from them if they can get the word out about their efforts to listen to customers and better serve them.

For example, during some flooding last winter, a number of different companies came together to help communities quickly solve the problems. The narrative, however, wasn’t presented widely or as a customer-centric effort. Rather, it fell into their challenging category of being an expected civic duty.

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