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customer experience in utilities

The fundamental role of customer experience in the utilities – the water sector

In the utility industry, and in the water sector in particular, customer experience has never been so important. To keep up and stay competitive, some companies in the industry will have to re-learn how to communicate. Here’s how.

Think of the water that flows from your kitchen sink or shower. It’s a service we all depend on, one that we take for granted until something goes wrong and we are faced with service interruption.

When that happens, customers will call their supplier and they will want clear, precise, quick answers, and they will want the problem to be solved as soon as possible, with maximum efficiency.

The services offered by the utility industry (by companies that supply water, electricity, and gas) can have a huge impact on our daily lives, and like the previous example shows, customer experience has a central role to play.

The utilities industry, and the water sector with it, has undergone unprecedented changes in recent years.

In a relatively short period, we have moved from a market with few powerful players and an almost monopolistic regime, to a powerful push towards liberalization. The market has thus expanded considerably and, above all, it has become (and is becoming) increasingly competitive.

The themes at the heart of the business of water, electricity, and gas suppliers have changed; it’s no longer just about power and reliability, as in the past. Today, the themes of sustainability, energy efficiency and transparency, in an increasingly green and smarter perspective, are important to companies and customers alike.

These changes have impacted the brand identities of companies in the sector, and this has overturned the role of the customer. Today, customers aren’t chasing companies, which have traditionally been difficult to get in touch with but are now at the center of the business. The customer is the most precious asset of utility industry companies, the real added value, and the factor on which their success (or their decline), depends.

Therefore, it’s no surprise that customer service is the department where companies are investing most, with the goal of increasing customer retention and loyalty and minimizing the risks of customer churn.

The best way to do this is to put in place data-driven communication processes, focusing as much as possible on personalization and one-to-one, interactive dialogue.

It is precisely this type of service that a specialist company like Doxee offers to companies in the Utilities sector. And for years now, companies like Enel, Engie, A2A, and Iren have relied on these cutting-edge services.

For this reason, Doxee has been included by CIOReview in its annual ranking of the 20 Most Promising Technology Solution Providers for Utilities.
 
We will talk about personalization and tailored customer service later in this post.
 

Customer service is central to water companies

Let’s start with some data.
According to the Customer Experience Impact Report, 89% of users who choose to change water, electricity and gas suppliers do so because of problems encountered in the customer experience. In addition, 86% of these customers say they are willing to pay more in exchange for a better service experience and dialogue with the company. And, 65% say that a positive experience with a brand is much more important and influential than any advertising campaign (source).

In addition, according to a 2017 Gartner survey, as many as 81% of marketers expect the customer experience to be the main marketing challenge in the next three years. All of this applies to almost all types of business, but it’s especially critical for the utility industry, which deals with selling and distributing pure commodities that have a strong impact on everyday life.

Finally, consider this other fact from a well-known analysis by Bain & Company: for a company, winning a new customer costs 6 to 7 times more than retaining one, through a satisfactory customer experience.

For companies in the utilities sector, and in the water sector in particular, almost everything is played on the customer experience.
 

How to improve customer experience: The main trends

Let’s look at the main trends in the sector, the guidelines according to which companies in the water sector are moving to improve their support services and dialogue with the customer.
 

1. Digitalization, automation and big data

At first glance, ”water and digital,” may seem like an unnatural combination. On the contrary, the water sector is benefiting greatly from digital transformation and is discovering great opportunities (see this post about digital transformation in the water sector, here).

In this sector, digital transformation has had positive repercussions on the infrastructure and distribution network, but it has especially affected the entire customer service department.

Through big data and analytics tools companies have the opportunity to learn more about the audience of its customers, to identify their characteristics, behaviors and needs (also through predictive analyses). These tools also give companies the possibility to divide their audience into segments, into more specific targets to be hit with ad hoc communication actions.

In other words, such actions require communications that have a higher rate of effectiveness than generic and generalist communications. All of this makes the rate of engagement and loyalty soar; then, in the final analysis, to increase and turnover.
 

2. Personalization

In the previous point, we introduced the concept of segmentation, and we saw how fundamental it is to increase the effectiveness of the dialogue between company and customer. The absolute frontier in this field, however, is that of personalization.

This is about interacting with each individual user in a different way, depending on his characteristics and behaviors, by packaging “messages” and “actions” tailored to each customer, in a one-to-one perspective.

Personalization and a customer-oriented approach, in an omnichannel version, are at the heart of the services offered by Doxee, on which the main players in the sector such as Enel to Engie, from A2A to Iren are relying.
 

3. “Always on”

A problem with the water supply is not just any problem. The customer expects a constant supply of this “product” and expects his provider to be “always on,” 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

The old model of service is no longer sufficient to do this. You need a well-designed and efficient online help desk, which works even on mobile… even better if in a specific application. We must also pay close attention to social networks, as many people use this medium to communicate with companies (and where service problems and successes could all go viral at any moment).
 

4. Embrace storytelling

There is a lot of talk about the effectiveness of storytelling for marketing and customer care, two departments that, today, are more interconnected than ever before, especially in the utility industry.

Let’s look at an example from the water industry. According to Water UK, the British water industry has more than 700,000 kilometres of pipes and sewers. The British environment agency has estimated that the equivalent of the water used by 20 million people is wasted every day due to losses and inefficiencies in this huge sector.

Thanks to digitalization and automation, some companies are trying to solve this dramatic problem, for example, through increasingly sophisticated sensors, and the possibilities that are opening up with the Internet of Things.

Now, at a time when waste reduction and attention to environmental sustainability are at the heart of the debate, you understand how important it is for companies that undertake important initiatives of this kind to learn to tell their story to users. The returns, for positioning, engagement, and loyalty, are very high.
 

5. Make it easy

According to the 2018 ForeSee Utilities CX Insights report, 80% of UK users would give up the traditional call center altogether if they were given an ideal online support experience.

In short, the direction is increasingly that of self-service, as long as it is one of high quality, that is transparent and effective. This translates to economic advantages for companies and greater customer satisfaction.

In short, companies must embrace this win-win perspective that transforms the customer into a prosumer, an active agent and no longer just a passive recipient of products and services.
 

As proof of the effectiveness of Doxee Interactive Experience (iX), click here and read our Iren case study:

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