The $220 billion utilities industry is undergoing massive deregulation. In many cities and states, customers can now shop around for a utility provider in the same way they can pick out a new cell phone or streaming service. Energy infrastructure is also facing a threat: 60-70% of power transformers, circuit breakers, and transmission lines have been in service for more than 30 years. However, global energy usage remains relatively flat, with an expected growth of only 4.6% in 2021. This pushes utility providers to find new ways to boost revenues by turning to an area they’ve typically taken for granted: the customer experience.
A survey by Bain & Company ranked the most important aspects of the customer experience. What was at the top of the list? Starting new service, or the digital account opening process. Unfortunately, surveys show that energy providers lag far behind other industries when it comes to delivering digital tools that impress.
The changing business model is opening up industry stalwarts to hungry competition. Newcomers are appealing to customers by offering exceptional online experiences that appeal to modern needs like syncing up with IoT-enabled buildings, green initiatives, and user-friendly tools. The field is ripe for tech-savvy newcomers offering exceptional customer experiences, and here’s how your utility provider can compete.
Why utility companies need to rethink their customer experiences
In areas where utilities are deregulated, energy customers are making the switch
In a 2020 survey by Ofgem, the regulatory body for electricity and gas in the UK, researchers found that 49% of respondents switched or considered switching their utility supplier. This number was up 15% over five years, highlighting how important it is for utility providers to shore up their customer experiences.
Remote workers are returning to the office in many areas of the world. Organizations are looking for fresh ways to keep team members happy in the workplace.
Complimentary snacks and break-time activities like ping-pong tables no longer top the list of most in-demand office perks—employees now rank natural light and comfortable temperatures as most important to their overall satisfaction. Utility companies who help businesses achieve these goals in user-friendly, cost-effective ways can appeal to these changing workplace trends.
Smart buildings are on the rise
Enterprise customers crave energy efficiency. In fact, 47% of businesses intend on increasing their investment in smart building tech. Property operators now rely on advanced AI and machine-learning-based building management systems where office buildings and residential complexes can predict and optimize energy consumption on the fly.
Buildings can autonomously heat or cool based on expected occupancy levels. They can also loop in with sunlight patterns to adjust temperatures accordingly. Customers occupying IOT-connected buildings want expert, real-time insight into their energy usage to help feed these new data models.
As one of the first touch points for a new enterprise customer, the initial steps like starting or transferring water, gas, and power services are the very first introduction to your utility’s digital offering. To leave a lasting mark on the modern consumer, online tools like account creation need to be intuitive, interactive, and user-friendly. Here’s how your utility company can deliver a winning digital account opening process.
How utility providers can create a winning digital account opening experience
1. Only collect the most critical customer data
Endless forms riddled with unnecessary questions don’t just slow down the process—they frustrate applicants. In fact, 97% of customers will ditch your company for the competition if the account opening process looks too confusing or time-consuming. Limit the number of questions asked on your initial application to reduce abandonment rates.
2. Make your process easy-to-use and straightforward on smartphones
Nearly half of customers express dissatisfaction with their utility’s website or app. How does the account opening process influence this negative sentiment?
According to Google, 52% of customers say that just one lousy mobile experience discourages them from doing business with a company. This initial start/stop service step is an excellent way for utility companies to outshine competitors. How?
- Digitally savvy customers expect easy-to-read text with intuitive interfaces. Break up long sections with crisp one-screen steps that handily guide applicants through the process.
- Use large print, big buttons, and contrasting colors to make the application easy to navigate—and see!—on the smaller real estate of a mobile device. Customers shouldn’t need to pinch to zoom or thumb through a laborious list of checkboxes.
Squeezing long-form applications into the smaller screen of a smartphone is a recipe for customer frustration. Instead of doing a simple copy-and-paste of a paper-based form, rethink your application for the devices it’s used on.
3. Streamline identity verification
Utility applications typically require identity verification. Depending on your strategy, time-wasting backend processes can slow down account creation and send your customer hunting for a quicker alternative. Leverage popular smartphone features and pre-existing third-party databases to perform the appropriate checks:
- Selfie scans: Automated software can scan a photo from a government-issued ID and compare it against a live video or selfie.
- Leverage third-party providers: Tap into credit reporting services, Dun & Bradstreet data, or other centralized databases to certify an applicant’s financial status.
- Location services: Smartphones can share the physical location of the user for comparison against a driver’s license or other proof of address.
If your application process still requires customers to phone in for final verification, you’re at a significant disadvantage to utilities that offer a complete self-service solution. Additional steps like scheduling a phone call or in-person appointment are sure-fire ways to send customers running for the competition.
4. Continue the conversation post-approval
Your account opening process should showcase how you as a utility provider can complement their growing suite of energy technology. Demand for utility solutions that support IOT-enabled building systems is only on the rise. One study by McKinsey reveals that while 45% of utility users prefer using digital-only channels, only 22% were actually doing so. Many customers are simply unaware of the additional services available to them. Savvy utility marketers use robust email campaigns to teach new users about paperless billing and fresh ideas for reducing energy usage.
Utility providers who once considered customers a given now have to place their customer experience at the forefront to survive. The industry is prime for a digital upheaval and utility providers are uniquely positioned to present the user-friendly “wow” moments customers now expect. Is your utility provider ready with the customer-facing experiences you’ll need to create a thriving user base for the future?