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August 11, 2021

Building Future-Forward Utilities: The Art of Perfecting the Digital Customer Experience (CX)

As the world entered the 2020s, no one knew what was in store, including utilities. Within a year, extreme events such as the pandemic, wildfires and other climate emergencies, pushed the imagination of every utility executive. And this decade has just begun!

The utility industry—known for rising to challenges, kicking off contingency plans, and ensuring the seamless delivery of must-have services to every home and business—learned a lot of lessons. Certainly, one lesson has been the importance of digital CX (customer experience) transformation.

While progress toward customer experience excellence was already underway among utilities, the global pandemic—along with other disruptive market shifts—has made investments in CX acceleration imperative. The impact of COVID-19 on customer behavior has been immediate across countries and demographics, bringing a widespread change in their decision-making and buying behavior. The pandemic shaped the need for easy access to products, services, and information. Customers are now comfortable using online channels to connect with businesses, and we see a growing usage of chat technologies and social media communication. The increased experience and sophistication among customers has driven the need for utilities to deliver better, safer, and more seamless interactions at lower costs, requiring them to invest in new digital methods to minimize customer effort and create frictionless processes.

COVID-19 amplified the significance of using segmentation and personalization to drive an emotional connection with customers. For example, while cost savings on utility bills is a priority for some customers, for others, it might be tackling sustainability concerns.

Utilities need to provide strongly tailored experiences to individuals to make them feel valued and put them in control.

Creating traction with modular solutions has become essential by integrating e-mobility, smart home technology, marketplace, community solar, etc., to modernize customer relationships. Utilities across the globe have increased technology adoptions in the last year in the cloud, IoT, and AI technologies to automate processes, provide customized offerings, and improve customer experience.

Many utilities are accelerating and augmenting their CX initiatives. Let’s look at a few:

  • With environmental stewardship and customer focus as the core value, Nebraska Public Power District (NPPD) launched NPPD on the Go to serve as a single integrated digital customer experience platform to meet consumer’s digital self-service needs, while making sustainable energy usage a reality. From utility bill payments, outage management to tracking energy usage, enrollment in energy saving programs, NPPD on the Go provides customers with more control and convenience. The platform has been at the receiving end of consumers praises since Day One and getting 5-star reviews on the App Store and Google Play.
  • DTE Energy is adopting innovative solutions to empower its 2.2 million customers with ways to reduce energy waste and lower utility bills. With the power of digital and emerging technologies, DTE Energy is providing an intuitive and engaging experience to its customers and showing them how implementing saving tips and using energy-efficient products can translate to energy-savings and environmental impact.
  • San Diego Gas & Electric Company (SDG&E) is taking ambitious steps to deliver a digital experience to its 3.6 million customers. Adopting a customer-first approach, the utility is replacing its legacy Customer Information Systems (CIS) and billing system and updating its native mobile app platform for improved customer experience and reduced cost-to-serve.
  • Southwest Gas (SWG) has established itself as a CX trendsetter in the industry by venturing into a comprehensive and multiyear transformation journey providing its 2 million+ customers 5-star experiences. From utility account management, billing and payments, and automated service management to chatbots to address customer queries, notifications and alerts, and outage management, SWG’s digital platforms are setting new benchmarks for the industry and are highly rated by their customers, consistently, making it the #1 utility platform.
  • The largest natural gas distribution utility in the US, Southern California Gas Company (SoCalGas), is delivering a rich customer experience and redefining the approach to energy savings for more than 21 million residential and business customers. SoCalGas is providing personalized insights to customers to reach efficiency and sustainability goals based on users' energy profiles, plus rebate and incentive information, and bill comparisons so that millions of people are empowered to save energy and lower their energy bills.

To replicate these successes or become another CX trendsetter, utilities require super-charged, cost-effective digital CX solutions that drive business outcomes at lightning speed. Some essential elements help energy and water providers make faster progress in building superior customer experience:

  1. Build customer-centricity – Deliver omnichannel experience, seamless interactions, proactive and personalized two-way communication, giving customers control of their consumption and service needs.
  2. Move to agile working – Adopt the agile mindset in response to changing consumer needs focusing on continuous innovation, ensuring that new developments and innovations are assessed against business goals.
  3. Enhance resilience – Develop an adaptive core with digital governance to better align digital initiatives with business strategies. Effective control and management of digital assets such as social media, mobile, cloud, analytics, IoT, etc.
  4. Increase personalization – Use predictive analytics and customer behavior analysis to understand the individual voice of each customer; then provide tailored communications and personalized offerings based on each user’s specific needs.
  5. Adopt latest technologies – Embed new technologies like IoT, AI, ML, analytics, cloud, mobile to augment the end-user experience and boost operational efficiency. Implement new tools and technologies to keep pace with the changing utility business landscape. The modular solutions help with rapid deployment while being cost effective.

What else should utilities do? First, the key is getting comfortable with change, getting comfortable with technology, and getting comfortable with keeping the customer at the center of business operations.

And it requires planning, action, and execution. All today.

It is about revamping the IT architecture, making room for more innovations and agility. Traditional IT processes with siloed applications will always hold off innovation. We are looking at the migration to a cloud-native microservices-based IT foundation with an agile development approach- one that is flexible, scalable, modular, and secure for future developments. One that leverages the power of AI, IoT, NLP, ML technologies, because that's where the future is. That's how utilities will survive in a world characterized by constant change and complexity.

And this new energy-water world is approaching faster than it seemed yesterday. The last two years have taught us that.

 

To learn more about the art of perfecting your utility’s digital CX journey, connect with us at Booth #301 or Meeting Room 746 at CS Week in Tampa, FL, August 17-19, 2021

Utegration and Smart Energy Water, together, help global utilities connect with their people and build superior digital customer and workforce experiences. Connect with us and find out how we can help you become future-ready!