By 2020, about 95 percent of a utility’s bill-paying customers will have either grown up during the age of digital technology or will be “digital converts” and fully digital savy.  — Pricewaterhouse Coopers

Firstly, personalisation is the new bar. Customers expect personalised services, not just good services. They expect firms to contextually understand who they are, to respond to their needs and in many cases to anticipate them. CMOs need to combine the power of analytics to deliver personalised experiences across customer journeys. - Victor Milligan CMO of Forrester Research

The evolution of digital technology is changing customer expectations for engaging with utilities companies. This is the fourth progression point in the evolution of businesses, from products to services to customers, and now to new digital customers. Utilities companies must have clear goals for what they wish to achieve through digital technology rather than simply following market trends. A number of companies have invested in digital technology without seeing results. Few utilities companies have been willing to begin altering their traditional approach to customer experience, with only 25% possessing a digital culture program to educate or support their workforce.1 Digital transformation isn’t something that can be bolted onto a legacy business model. Before embarking on this digital journey, or correcting current path, utilities companies must answer two key questions:

  1. What is digital customer centricity?
  2. How can this change be made?

Gartner states, “Success in the enterprise is heavily dependent on customer relationship management which is one of the most efficient ways of building and retaining relationships with customers. As the digital age continues to evolve and leave us with more advancements in technology, it’s important to stay ahead of the curve with customer-focused strategies that utilize digital techniques to keep customers engaged and satisfied.”

What is digital customer centricity?

Digital customer centricity is not about having digital presence through websites, apps or social media. It’s about using this digital presence for better understanding of the customer in order to provide a more personalized experience. Digital customer centricity is about convenience, context and personalization. In today’s age, digital technology is becoming like a sixth sense, and is liberating the customer to control their interactions with personalized responses. However, few companies have adopted the tools necessary for collecting the data necessary for achieving this shift, with 61% of utility executives stating data analyses had been detrimental to their business in the past.2

Customer expectations have evolved from “me too” to “for me”. Digital technology is changing the paradigm for how companies segment customers and provide services. Companies now need to be more proactive than reactive in providing their product, service or interaction. Digital customer centricity needs to become part of a company’s DNA and permeate every aspect of the organization, affecting people, processes and strategy.

How can the change to dig­ital customer centricity be made? — Three facets

1. Convenience: Digital technology and mobility enables convenient and consistent interactions with customers.

a. Self Service: Today’s customer demands control over what they can self-serve for 70% of interactions, such as monitoring their utilities consumption, choosing products or services, viewing outages, demand-side management and controlling their billing and payment options. Customers should be able to access any necessary information for making appropriate decisions based on their needs. This capability must be enabled for all the devices the customer may own, allowing transactions to be made at a convenient time. Balancing functionality, convenience and usability ensures customers adopt self-serve options and feel in control of their needs.

b. Omni-Channel Customer Interaction: Multiple channels allow customer to interact how and when they want. This includes from options to engage via web-chat, social media (Facebook, Twitter etc.), WhatsApp, or traditional methods like emails, letters and calls. Consistency is one of the biggest challenges companies now face, as the customer experience must be seamless across all channels. Whether a customer engages with a company through a website, email, or mobile app, the responses should be clear, consistent, and customer-centric.

c. Imbibe Digital in Internal Processes: Employees of an organization should also receive the same experience during internal interactions with HR, finance and other departments to ensure they fully imbibe the digital customer centricity concept and treat each customer as an individual.

2. Context: In the digital transformation journey, companies need to ensure they leverage all the digital interactions and big data. Contextualization is a prerequisite for personalization.

a. Digital Insights: It is important to develop a personalized contextual data set for each customer, which can be used for all future proactive and reactive interactions. Analytics will be a key driver in accomplishing this, and should include metrics for categories such as speech, text, web, behavior and sentiment. Digital analytics is a key component for understanding customer needs, and must be part of the core business strategies for maintaining a competitive edge.

b. Smart Insights: With smart meter installation, utility companies have great opportunity to capture consumption data and use patterns to provide options for saving energy or creating personalized tariff plans

3. Personalization:

a. Digital Customer Experience: Companies must shift focus to measures directly related to customer outcomes, such as customer effort and rate of personalization success. In order to improve these digital experience measures, companies must understand customer needs and expectations.

b. Uberization of Customer Touch Points: Traditionally, utility companies have made key compromises in the form, frequency and caliber of interactions with customers due to operational limitations. This has resulted in almost half of North American energy customers stating they lack trust in their supplier. Digital capabilities now offer the opportunity for change. Utility companies must examine how each touch point can be shifted to digital, and how information harnessed from these digital touch points can be used to provide a more proactive and personalized experience.

c. Customer Advocacy from Traditional Customer Service: Traditional customer service needs to change to a customer advocacy model offering personalized omni-channel experience. Customer advocacy involves listening, understanding, advising, taking ownership of customer issues and providing the best resolution. Advocates interact with customers via any channel to keep the customer updated and informed.

d. Change to Digital Quality Framework from Traditional Quality Framework: The biggest gap in the digital transformation process is a limited ability to continuously improve and evolve. Outputs from various interactions need to be monitored, and a feedback loop must be used to improve how customers react to personalization and the digital experience. Digital customer centricity will transform all industry segments, including utilities. Convenience, context and personalization are key in making organizations truly digital customer centric. Adding digital capability to an existing business model is not the answer for digital customer centricity. Organizations must redesign their business and operating models in order to embed digital customer centricity.

Sources

  1. PwC Energy 2020 — Becoming Digital Normal
  2. ibid

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