Customer expectations are rapidly evolving in all industries—and utilities are no exception. Utilities are being tasked with providing safe, reliable, and affordable service to customers while efficiently and effectively communicating, assisting, and collecting payment. Customers expect a streamlined digital experience that delivers usage data, outage notifications, self-service, bill payment, and other services.
The goal of meeting current and future needs is real. Utilities have an opportunity to do so by engaging customers and putting into place the programs needed to deliver more transparency and customer choice. A successful customer experience strategy, however, is not a one-size-fits-all solution. That’s why we recommend first analyzing how your utility stacks up within the industry before reinventing your strategy. This will help identify where you can maximize investments and understand gaps and areas for improvement.
Our team contacted 39 water and electric municipal utilities from across the country, obtaining 200 data points from utilities spanning 150,000 to 1,000,000 meters to better understand the correlation between spend and customer experience and identify best practices. That information was then used to establish metrics in four key areas:
MarketingThe very nature of the utility industry is rooted in relationships and trust with customers. Marketing can be a powerful tool to strengthen customer relationships by highlighting new customer and energy efficiency programs, water conservation efforts, sponsorship opportunities, and limited income programs. The goal for utilities—while still making their services and community impact well known—is to maximize the effectiveness of marketing campaigns while minimizing the marketing spend (on a per meter or marketing full-time employee (FTE) basis). Our survey results showed that when one FTE services more meters than the peer average, that utility is likely using the marketing dollars more effectively.
Contact CenterContact centers have long been the primary means of customer service in utilities. But evolving customer needs and expectations are forcing these centers to be more nimble, responsive, and tech-savvy. Customers expect to engage with utilities in more ways than ever—over email, chat, text, and apps. Contact center teams hold the potential to serve and engage customers more effectively while making it simple for employees to offer consistent, high-quality service. This includes finding new ways to engage customers and balance between digital channels and self-service and person-to-person support.
BillingAn effective and efficient billing department that provides accurate bills can save time, money, and resources. Using one utility as an example from our benchmarking data, a drop in billing accuracy of 1% would result in 4,200 more inaccurate bills per month. This adversely impacts customer satisfaction and can also lead to additional costs downstream. Reducing costs or resources associated with the quality assurance/control of bills before they’re sent may decrease the upfront spend, but a reduction of accuracy it can cost you in the long run with a reduction of accuracy.
Key AccountsKey accounts make up an important—and oftentimes significant—portion of a utility’s revenue. As a key account program is developed, it’s important to consider the ROI on spend and which customers should be included in the program. Different utilities use different classifications to identify which customers should be considered key accounts. Efforts to service these top accounts include well-planned and supported programs that use genuine relationships to understand and meet sometimes-unique needs. Several metrics were collected to measure the efficacy of the key accounts program. Top-tier utilities were spending 0.06% as a percent of their O&M budget on key accounts, spending $2,600 per key account per year. Though the number of key accounts managers per FTE were highly variable and dependent on the classification used to define a key account, top-tier utilities were using their key account reps effectively and had a key account per FTE ratio of 39.
What works for one utility may not necessarily work for another. But understanding how you rate in the industry and where room for improvement exists should be the first step to identify growth areas. Once potential areas are identified, a process improvement initiative should be undertaken to identify waste in the targeted process. After processes are optimized, utilities are encouraged to set up a Continuous Improvement (CI) office that is constantly looking at what others in and outside of the industry are doing and bringing those best practices to the utility.