Sparks are flying in the utilities industry. Customer satisfaction levels have been dropping at an alarming rate. In the UK, for example, they’ve dropped from 78% in 2012 to 55% in 2013. There’s also an issue of trust, with 2013 research showing that only 29% of customers trusted their utility providers[i].
But attempts to inject some energy into the utility customer experience could short-circuit because of a growing digital divide. Consider this: social media usage by customers across the utility sector, alone, is expected to increase by almost 1000% by 2017[ii]. But it’s certainly not clear-cut that the industry is suitably prepared to handle this digital power surge.
In fact, there is a yawning gap between what utility providers are doing in terms of customer experience versus what customers expect and want. Capgemini Consulting conducted research across the top 50 utility providers across the globe to understand their digital initiatives across Web, mobile and social media channels. We then analyzed the customer sentiment. We found a significant disconnect between the two.
There are two things causing this disconnect. The first issue is that existing digital initiatives are not always of sufficient reach and maturity. The second issue is that the few initiatives that do exist are not meeting customer expectations.
This lack of reach is seen in the fact that the mobile channel is relatively unexplored. Burgeoning mobile usage is clear: 50% of customers prefer to use a mobile customer service application to try and resolve their service issues before calling the contact center[iii]. But utilities have not powered up this channel, with our research showing that 44% of utility companies do not offer a mobile app. Out of the companies that do offer an app, only 24% offer advanced features, such as the ability to report outage issues. It comes as no surprise then that customer sentiment borders on the negative, with only 32% of customers having a positive opinion on utility-provided mobile apps.
Social media platforms, too, face a similar predicament. The importance of social media as a powerful platform for customer engagement is under-powered in the utilities sector. Much of the sector’s social media communications use a traditional broadcast approach, with little scope for customer participation and engagement. For instance, outage management is critical in enhancing the utility customer experience. However, while 58% of utility companies regularly post power-outage information on social media channels, none of them allow customers to report issues. It is maybe not surprising, therefore, that only 26% of customers have a positive opinion on the quality of communication on outages.
In addition, social media continues to be used for brand building as opposed to customer service. While 58% of utilities use their social media channels to promote their community development initiatives, only 38% address customer complaints on social media channels. Again, it is not surprising to learn that only 29% of customers are happy about the quality of customer service received on social media channels.
It is clear that utilities really need to power up their digital customer experience. While companies are putting in the effort, a lack of direction is diminishing the odds of success. A winning digital strategy begins with transforming existing channels to provide an “anytime-any-device” experience for customers. It means aligning all customer touch points to create a seamless multichannel experience. More importantly, it involves a shift in the mindset of utilities, from being energy suppliers to becoming energy service providers, which will mean harvesting customer data and usage patterns to offer customized energy management services. It’s this sort of approach that will allow utilities to really build sustained customer satisfaction and loyalty.
Utilities and their customers are often speaking a different language in the digital sphere, but this area offers a rich and exciting opportunity to deliver exceptional customer service. To understand more about how to leverage digital for a superior customer experience, please read our report at: http://www.capgemini-consulting.com/utilities-digital-customer-experience.