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How the Utilities Industry is leading a Paradigm Shift in Customer Experience

Smart Meters are the next generation of electricity and gas meters well-equipped with necessary connectivity options that let them communicate directly with the energy suppliers. The access to vital ‘near real-time information’ related to consumption patterns lets consumers have a tighter grip over their energy consumption.

Sure, end-consumers and retail businesses are gaining significant benefits & savings by optimally utilizing the data from advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) smart meters. Still, the important question that needs to be answered is:

Above and beyond providing energy, what steps are utility companies taking to deliver a fantastic customer experience?

In this blog, we look at how utility companies are actively engaging with their customers in an effort to transform their experience.

Table of Contents

  • The ‘Customer Satisfaction’ Score

  • Leveraging Analytics for ‘Smart Outage Management’

  • Behind the scenes Optimizations in the ‘Ticket Management System’

  • The ever-changing game of ‘Bill Payments’
  • The ‘Customer Satisfaction’ Score

    Talking about Customer Satisfaction, the Net Promoter Score (NPS) plays a vital role in decoding customer loyalty and satisfaction. NPS is calculated based on the results obtained by surveying customers of the utility services. A higher NPS score is a rough indicator of customers recommending your services to others. Customers with a higher NPS fall into the ‘loyal customer’ bucket and can be targeted with offers for demand response & other utility programs. A useful mechanism for reducing customer churn is loosely based on the principles of ‘stickiness’ and ‘gamification’ in the utilities sector.

    The overall customer satisfaction scores of the utility industry in the US is a positive indicator that US-based utility companies are leaving no stone unturned to convert ‘customers’ into ‘customer evangelists’. As per J.D. Power Electric Utility Residential Customer Satisfaction Study, the overall customer satisfaction rate for the utilities industry averaged 719[1] (on a 1000-point scale) – a massive 39 point improvement in comparison to 2016.

    For the first time, Forrester’s Net Promoter Benchmark Report[2] included the Utilities sector for NPS benchmarking. As per their benchmarking study, NPS for utilities in the US entered into the positive scoring territory. That’s not all; Gas and Electric NPS benchmarks for 2021 look equally impressive!

    Figure 2 Source

    The improvement in the Customer Satisfaction Score is an indicator that utility companies are making significant efforts to provide their customers with exceptional service. When we say service, it is not limited to providing electricity and/or gas but about making them the center of attention!

    Leveraging Analytics for ‘Smart Outage Management’

    Though the NPS of the utilities sector is showing an upward trend, it still continues to lag behind industries like retail, banking, auto insurance, and others. It is also likely that an energy utility customer is already a customer of tech and on-demand services like Amazon AWS, Uber, and more. In short, the utility customers have already experienced services that use digital communication strategies to their fullest potential. They might have similar expectations from their utility provider.

    The relevant question is “How can utility companies fast track their efforts to transform the overall customer experience?” Proactive Power outage management is one such area that can help in addressing customer’s high experience expectations.

    Top-performing digital utility companies display an-depth level of information regarding usage, account information, payment information, etc.; irrespective of the medium (e.g. app, website, etc.) used for accessing those details. Majority of the utility companies are adopting new technologies as far as billing and payments is concerned.

    However, there are two major hurdles that have to be overcome for managing power outages in a more efficient manner:

    1. Proactive and timely communication about the scheduled power outages to the utility customers
    2. Leverage technologies like predictive analytics, Machine Learning (ML), and more for building a comprehensive & smart power outage management system

    For planned outages (due to scheduled maintenance at the utility provider’s side), timely and detailed outage information should be communicated to the customers on different channels of communication (i.e. social media, phone calls, e-mail, etc.). These efforts should be supplemented with timely updates on the ‘estimated time of power restoration’, thereby keeping the customers at the forefront of power outage communication.

    Advanced digital tools comprising of upstream, midstream, and downstream components can be useful in communicating about ‘unplanned’ power outages caused due to natural disasters like hurricanes, wildfires, earthquakes, etc.

    A robust & proactive Power Outage Management system that leverages ML, Predictive Analytics, and other digital technologies can be instrumental in providing detailed and timely power outage statues to utility customers.

    Such a system will go miles in improving the overall operational efficiency and delighting the customers through timely communication on different channels.

    Behind the scenes Optimizations in the ‘Ticket Management System’

    Once the customer experiences a power outage, a ticket is raised by the customer in the Outage Management System (or Ticket Management System). Ticket creation of power outages should be made possible through the utility provider’s app, VRU (Voice Response Unit), email, and other relevant modes.

    For effective communication on the ‘ticket updates’, the Ticket Management System (TMS) should not be functioning in isolation. Instead, utility providers have to integrate TMS with AMI (Advanced Metering Infrastructure), Distribution Management Systems (DMS), and other sub-systems in the power value-chain.

    An integrated approach is useful for keeping the customers updated about ticket status, ERT (Estimated Restoration Time), and more. Even a minute change in the status of the ticket should be circled back with the customer for closing the ‘communication chain’ with regards to the ticket.

    Before a service agent is brought in for looking into the issue, the Outage Prediction Algorithm which is normally a part of the ‘Smart Outage Communication System’ should scan through the historical patterns to identify the potential reason for the outage.

    The power outage ticket should be closed only when the power is restored and the entire history of the ticket should be accessible to the utility customer.

    Improved Ticket Management in the utilities value-chain helps in keeping the impacted customers updated about the aspects related to scheduled/unscheduled power outage.

    The ever-changing game of ‘Bill Payments’

    Utility customers now have a number of options at their disposal when it comes to paying their utility bills. To top it all, the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in accelerating the digital transformation of the utility industry.

    Nowadays, customers prefer to use digital self-service options for payment of their bills. Some of the widely-used payment methods are one-time pay, auto-pay, guest pay, quick pay, and more. Though one time pay/auto pay in general have been in existence for a long time, utility companies are offering more payment options (e.g. Google Pay, Apple Pay, etc.) as part of digital transformation. The introduction of an array of payment options leads to improved customer experience.

    PCI DSS (Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard) Compliance is making online card payments safe, secure, and easy J.

    Online Bill Payments is the next playground for utility companies to provide their customers with a seamless payment experience.

    Conclusion

    The Customer Satisfaction Score in the J.D. Power Electric Utility Residential Customer Satisfaction Study for the utilities industry gives an indication that companies in the sector are taking essential steps to woo their customers. At TekGeminus, we have played a pivotal role in implementing several customer experience improvement initiatives in Utilities domain.  An example is building a scalable system for usage based alerts and graphs integrating

    The efforts also involved planning & development of a complex and scalable IT application that comprised of multiple applications across Metering, CIS, Web, Mobile, and Big data analytics areas

    The devised system was capable of managing customer enrolments and de-enrolments, improving communication preferences (e-mails, text messages) for customers, and issuing different types of alerts & graphs as preferred by the customer.

    To summarize, utility companies are taking incremental steps in areas related to outage management, payments, and more in the bid to transform their customer experience.


    [1] https://www.jdpower.com/business/press-releases/2018-utility-digital-experience-study

    [2] https://go.forrester.com/blogs/nps-benchmarks-2020-national-park-service-usaa-trader-joes-and-navy-federal-top-the-ranking/

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