Utility Week

Utility Week 16th June 2017

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28 | 16TH - 22ND JUNE 2017 | UTILITY WEEK Customers Market view C ompanies face growing pressure to put customer experience at the heart of their businesses. In an era of increased competition, the empowered consumer can – and will – demand more from the brands they engage with. This is no different for the utilities sec- tor. With an increasing number of savvy consumers switching energy suppliers, it is clear companies looking to retain customers need to examine when and why consumers go elsewhere. Today's energy industry is a commitment- free area. Growing competition and constant pressure from aggregators – where typically consumers change suppliers using price comparisons – mean it is vital companies up their game to remain competitive. Price is no longer enough: customer experience and personal incentives are key. We are starting to see a real change from utilities providers looking to catch up with other sectors in terms of customer experi- ence. Encouragingly, customer satisfaction in the industry is improving faster than in any other sector in the UK. But at the same time, Google Trends data reveals that inter- est in switching hit a four-year high earlier this year. This suggests the battle for customer loyalty is far from won, and there is a huge opportunity for providers who can get cus- tomer experience right. The smaller firms looking to penetrate the market must focus on doing things differently, while the big six must change strategy to retain their custom- ers. Companies now need to focus on the barriers to delivering a better experience, and overcoming them. Different sectors, different experiences? Today's customers have high expectations, partly driven by the exceptional service offered in sectors such as retail and enter- tainment. But the nature of these industries means customer service is oen simply eas- ier to provide based on the positive contact points within the customer lifecycle. In the retail sector, consumers will choose shops that provide the experience they value. Think, for example, of the consum- ers who would rather pay a premium on their clothes if it means experiencing a more pleasant shopping experience. However, in utilities, the customer is less likely to value the experience as highly. Consumers do not thank suppliers for the fantastic electricity they have enjoyed, so companies need to think outside the box when it comes to contact points and how they can develop a positive relationship. Utility suppliers will also encounter cus- tomers in more complex situations. Provid- ing a life-altering service means there is a wider window for mistakes or reasons for dissatisfaction than in retail. In these circumstances, the customer needs to feel supported by well designed, tai- lored processes that take into account their different needs. Indeed, it is these journeys where the battle for customer satisfaction and loyalty are won or lost. While customer experience may be harder to deliver in the utilities sector, it means there is more scope to get it right. Pro- viders now need to go beyond expectations to deliver a fully integrated, personal omni- channel experience. This comes down to three simple steps: get to know your customers; critically ana- lyse your processes; and introduce true transformation to re-energise the business. While it sounds simple, many companies still struggle to get it right. Companies need to gain a greater under- standing of their customers and behaviours. By leaning on their analytics functions, com- panies can segment their customers not by age and stereotypical standard forms, but by behaviour. This will help develop an understanding of how your consumers like to interact with you, and how this may change according to the time of day, their location, or how they are feeling at that point in time. This will be an ever-changing scale, so suppliers need to build flexibility and choice into the provision of their contact channels. It is also important to remember that behav- iours will also change depending on market trends: tariff variations, smart metering, and connected home apps will all change how customers interact with your business. At its core, customer service depends on being able to promptly address a problem with an expert, without having to spend 20 minutes going through an automated pro- cess on the phone, or waiting hours for a reply on web chat. Providers should also look to alternative contact channels, such as messenger within apps and interactive SMS, to give customers the most efficient and con- venient service possible. Analyse your processes Customers have more channels available to get in touch with brands than ever before, but this comes with problems. The rise of omni-channel also means the rise of channel bounce, where a customer is shunted from agent to agent and channel to channel until their problem is resolved. To an already frus- trated customer, having to repeat themselves adds fuel to the fire and could damage their relationship with the company. That is why it is critical suppliers take the time to analyse internal and external pro- cesses impacting the customer experience, and understand each point of potential fail- ure and work through solutions to resolve broken processes to allow for a smooth front- end customer experience. Key to great customer service is a flex- ible and dedicated team, open to innovation while mindful of the difficulties a customer may face. Ensuring your team remains informed and empowered is critical. Making the most of empathic training, engagement strategies and full circle feedback channels will help teams become passionate about providing valuable experiences every time they pick up the phone or start typing. In today's customer-centric world, we must move on from talking about the chal- lenges of providing a good customer expe- rience, and started focusing on finding the right solutions to reconnect with customers. Roanna Williams, business development manager, Firstsource Solutions Making the reconnection Roanna Williams explains how utilities can reconnect with their customers by matching the level of customer experience they have come to expect from other sectors.

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