Utilities: Addressing the customer and “what’s in it for me?”

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It’s only to be expected that when a business asks of something from their customer they should expect something in return, right?

A quid pro quo from New Latin meaning “something for something” which originates from the early 16th century and very much resonates with a 21st century consumer. As an example let’s explore Utilities. In my former days working at an Energy firm we would provide monetary discounts as an example to our customers if they signed up to paperless billing or we added loyalty points to a reward card if they submitted meter readings via the website.

All good to begin with but as the old adage suggests “There is no such thing as a free lunch” and the value perceived by the customer eventually became so low that the economics failed to stack up. Then there’s the matter of trust, quid pro quo only works when each party mutually respects one another so the something for something is deemed to be built upon an honest exchange. This is something that we know Utilities are challenged by as highlighted in numerous research studies including the RepTrak report from the Reputation Institute which highlighted that “Energy is the industry which overall has the weakest perception among the UK General Public in 2016”.

Yet, here is an industry trying to change, wanting to innovate with its offers and intent on providing a good customer and user experience. Why then has it gone so wrong? For a start it’s an uncomfortable truth that your monthly gas and electricity bill eats significantly into a household expenditure – and that for some is simply not right or indeed fair. Next it’s difficult to “hide” a price change. Not saying that good business practice shouldn’t be transparent about these things, but it is so very public, making it a political punch bag at times too. Finally there’s aging infrastructure and legacy systems that make providing a customer service less than agile and not always with a 360 view of the customer.

So what can be done? Here’s some thoughts:

  • “Be elastic. Think like a disruptor”

When reading through Millward Brown’s 2017 Top 100 Global Brands* report, they suggest five actions for building valuable brands including “Think like a disruptor brand, and focus on the needs of the consumer rather than the boundaries of the category.” This is particularly important for Utilities who are facing an increasing threat from non utility new entrants as the Capgemini European Energy Markets Observatory 18th Edition notes “Apple and Google have already established positions in the downstream market; it will only be a matter of time before they add the commodity supply of energy to their service and technology offerings”. Now is the time to be bold, to do things differently and to be led by your customer insight.

  • “Connect and create collaborative exchanges”

As I have mentioned earlier quid pro quo is an ancient yet poignant notion of exchanging something for something. This is taken one step further in new research from IDE (part of the MIT Sloan School of Management) and Capgemini Consulting – From UX to CX: Rethinking the Digital User Experience as a Collaborative Exchange. With a plethora of case studies this research proposes a framework for deciding when and how consumer experiences can be transformed, shifting the emphasis away from UX (user experience) to collaborative exchanges (CX) to generate a Win-Win. The importance here is to connect with your customer to design participative exchanges that are meaningful and mutually beneficial. Find inspiration here: https://www.capgemini.com/digital-customer-experience/the-disconnected-customer

  • “Leverage Customer Service with Digital”

In a digital era where service expectations have never been higher, the ability of a Utility firm to get things right first time for the customer at a time of their choosing, via any device with speed and efficiency is not just a requirement, it is the new norm. When this goes well, price is less likely to be a deciding factor and may even lead to consumers being happy to pay more as highlighted in The Disconnected Consumer~: “81% of consumers are willing to pay for a better service”. Does this mean fast tracking certain customers Easy Jet style to a customer service operative? It would certainly be worth exploring a range of options including wholly a digital service, ensuring customers that want a low price / low engagement digital only service, get what they pay for. While we’re at it, why not give the commodity itself for free and charge only for the service.

Whatever the approach, addressing “what’s in it for me” has to be central to any Utility firm’s approach to keeping customers, fighting back against reputational issues, growing the business and leap-frogging the competition.

About Natalie Griffiths

Natalie is from our Customer Experience & Analytics Practice in Capgemini Consulting. She is part of our Expert Connect program for Digital Customer Experience and plays a leading role for our Digital Customer Experience Utilities Centre of Excellence. Find out more here:  https://www.uk.capgemini-consulting.com/customer-transformation-1

Sources: ^ RepTrak report:https://www.reputationinstitute.com/Resources/Registered/PDF-Resources/U… *2017 BrandZ Top 100 Global Brands: http://www.millwardbrown.com/brandz/top-global-brands/2017/takeaways ~ Disconnected Consumer: https://www.capgemini.com/digital-customer-experience/the-disconnected-c…

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