In the Utilities sector, more organizations are directing their efforts toward building an innovative customer experience to ensure that customers are able to interact fluidly and immediately through their preferred channels, throughout their journey. Customer onboarding sits at the intersection of sales and service pathways, and it aims to facilitate the transition of the newly acquired customer to his or her new status as an informed, knowledgeable, and satisfied user. By modernizing and digitizing customer onboarding, utilities can reduce friction, lighten the workload on customer service, and increase user satisfaction. Among other things, the complete restructuring of processes and infrastructure is no longer essential today; companies can become more efficient quickly by making incremental improvements without disrupting the entire workflow. Thanks to the increased analytics that new technologies enable, particularly cloud-based SaaS platforms, utilities are able to leverage the vast amounts of data they have access to and nurture loyalty by providing useful services that are timely, accurate, and effective. This starts right from the onboarding phase.

What is the purpose of customer onboarding for Utility companies?  

Customer onboarding processes in utilities can take many forms depending on the different types of services that are provided. In general, customers expect a number of steps to take place during the onboarding phase: that checks are made to formally ascertain their identity, always in compliance with regulatory requirements; that they have the necessary instructions to access their personal accounts; that they understand how to use the payment methods available to them; and that they are aware of and know how to use the available communication channels for interacting with the company. These are the minimum essential activities. However, a truly effective customer onboarding process is one that, above all else, increases the value of the relationship and succeeds in making it last. It’s the one that puts newly acquired customers at ease, provides step-by-step tutorials (preferably interactive ones) complete with helpful hints, tips, shortcuts, and organizes small celebrations to celebrate customer milestones from time to time (e.g., more sustainable consumption habits or the switch to a premium product, narrated through personalized videos).

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The main steps in the digital onboarding process

Although the “typical” digital onboarding process can vary greatly, we know that most of the time, it’s still developed through three steps.

1. Request for registration by the user  

Often, newly acquired customers initiate the onboarding process. Typically, users can access services organized by utilities directly through their website by filling out an online form or by booking an appointment to speak with a sales or customer care operator.

2. Contact from the company 

The completion of a form is always followed by a communication from the organization (the completion of a form by a customer is a very frequent occurrence, since the home address and other details about the infrastructure may be needed to move forward in the process). These interactions (phone calls, emails, chat exchanges on the website or on a social network or app, and so on) are intended to establish initial contact and are used to verify the information provided by the user and possibly obtain payment methods. Currently, the entire transition, or a large part of it, takes place through digital channels.

3. Enrollment in the customer service portal or platform  

Most utilities have now enabled self-service portals or apps to offer their customers a digital pathway when they request assistance and when they proceed to payment (on the business side, new digital tools enable them to speed up and enhance the billing process). The enrollment phase of the platform is therefore crucial: if digital onboarding steps are not executed correctly, this compromises your ability to deliver a positive customer experience, perhaps permanently, and this negatively impacts the entire customer lifecycle.

Why should companies focus resources and efforts on the onboarding phase? 

The Utility sector has several touch points, and each of them represent an opportunity for building a stable and lasting company-customer relationship. One of the most crucial of these is certainly the onboarding process, for a number of important reasons. For starters, Philip Kotler’s famous statement that it is much cheaper to retain an existing customer than to acquire a new one remains true. No matter the size of the budget spent to acquire the customer in the first place, they can be easily lost when care and attention to detail are lacking. In the case of a customer onboarding that is riddled with obstacles and friction, the customer experience will inevitably be poor and unsatisfactory, and this will affect the customer’s overall perception of the entire experience. In a cascade effect, the negative perception of onboarding will undermine the very foundation of a relationship and weaken the chance of building a trusting relationship and damaging the mechanisms of loyalty so much so that abandonment becomes increasingly likely. Without a properly planned and executed onboarding process, there is already a risk of losing a customer in the first few days after signing up. Such customers may immediately start looking around for more punctual, accurate, transparent, and reliable service providers.

Focusing resources and efforts on the onboarding phase is ultimately the most forward-looking move to gain a long-term competitive advantage.

How to evolve the customer onboarding process in utilities: modernizing communication

Digital transformation has proven to be a critical factor in increasing revenues and achieving greater efficiency, so much so that between 2020 and 2021, spending on digitization in the industry has increased from 30% to 38.4%. What is the decisive step that companies should take to improve customer onboarding in utilities? Equip themselves with the most appropriate digital tools to achieve their goals.

This is not strictly a technical or technological issue: digitization has produced a profound change in production routines, in the methodologies adopted, and in the entire cultural approach to process management. In particular, digitization has played a central role in modernizing communication with users (existing and newly onboarded ones) by streamlining and speeding up the customer support response. This transformation is made possible by simplifying data collection processes, known as KYC (Know Your Customer), which enables organizations (including banks, financial institutions, and utilities) to confirm the identity of the people they are doing business with and ensure that these entities are acting legally.

Not only does effective KYC protect companies (and users) from the risk of fraud, it also enables them to gain a comprehensive view of the customers themselves. By leveraging profile history and collecting behavioral data through a dedicated platform (Customer Data Platform), companies can tailor their onboarding processes to meet the needs of individual users in an increasingly timely manner.

This is why an excellent onboarding process must also focus on the systems for collecting, selecting, archiving, and interpreting data.

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Sending messages on multiple channels: reaching users on their preferred channels

The early stages of the relationship with new customers offers information that is critical to building an accurate knowledge base of your customer base right away. Having correct and relevant information about the customer will make it easier to improve the customer experience right from the onboarding process. It’s similar to the need to communicate on multiple channels from the outset. By leveraging what they have learned about customers’ consumption habits and preferences, companies will be able to contact them, depending on their actual availability, via app, cell phone, SMS, email, wherever they prefer, and will be able to select and send only the content that may interest them, in the formats most likely to capture their attention.

A standardized solution to reduce pressure on customer service

By digitizing the onboarding process, utilities have a standardized solution for sharing customer data. Being able to rely on a consistent repository that is accessible by different departments goes a long way toward increasing the efficiency of the corporate CRM in the long run. The onboarding process becomes more refined as the information assets become larger and more articulated. Knowing your stakeholders better inevitably reduces friction because it provides formidable support for customer care by:

  • filtering the workload of operators during critical periods; 
  • increasing service quality, allowing better average handling times;
  • reducing the number of calls on hold;
  • reducing management costs related to human error, delays, complaints;
  • strengthening the company’s reputation in general.

An onboarding process that is as smooth as possible for the customer increases the likelihood of retention and eventually has a positive impact on other touch points, such as contract renewals or bill payments, setting the stage for increasingly positive customer experiences.

Five focus areas to improve the utilities onboarding process

In the onboarding process, a new customer gains all the necessary knowledge to become an integral part of an organization. To improve customer onboarding processes in utilities, companies can implement a number of strategies. 

From increased call deflection to reduced customer churn, from lower operating costs to higher customer value, there are several key areas that utilities should focus on to improve onboarding processes. Here, we have chosen the top 5 that companies need to know.

1. Improved call deflection

By implementing self-service options and providing customers with easy-to-use digital platforms as early as onboarding, utilities can help customers quickly find answers to recurring concerns or overcome some easy-to-solve problems on their own. This reduces the need to contact customer support, resulting in improved call deflection rates and greater customer satisfaction.

2. Reducing the churn rate

The churn rate is the real pain point for the entire industry. According to (the global leader in cloud software for conversational commerce), the average churn rate for energy and utilities in the United States is about 30 to 35%. In Europe, this figure is around 12-15%. While the high churn rate probably indicates a weak customer experience, what is certain is the negative impact that this has on the company’s revenues (we have already mentioned this: attracting new customers costs up to five times more than retaining existing ones). Utilities must then prioritize initiatives that can help reduce churn rates during the early stages of onboarding by addressing customer concerns early, providing personalized support, and offering incentives to promote customer loyalty.

More advanced interactive tools such as virtual demos, explainer videos, and guided tutorials can be successfully used to provide practical guidance to new customers, ensuring a smooth transition to the full use of their services. These are interactive experiences that allow users to explore features, solve common problems, and customize their settings, all in an intuitive and engaging environment. By enabling customers to actively participate in their onboarding journey, Utility companies reduce the learning curve and increase customer satisfaction by fostering the formation of a stronger connection.

3. Reduced process operating costs

Transitioning from physical channels, such as in-person meetings or phone calls to digital platforms, simplifies and speeds up onboarding operations and, as a result, significantly reduces operational costs. By encouraging customers to use self-service options, companies can achieve a significant reduction in process operating costs while improving the overall onboarding experience. Managing communication through Customer Communication Management (CCM) solutions can also help increase the efficiency of the onboarding process. CCM, a platform that enables a comprehensive set of features (from email to SMS, mobile push modes to web notifications), can prove crucial in dynamically segmenting customers based on their interests and building automated workflows that are triggered based on certain actions. Data-driven automation frees human operators from more repetitive tasks, allowing them to focus on higher-value activities.

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4. Greater process integration, upselling, and cross-selling

Integration of various processes, such as customer relationship management (CRM), meter data (MDM), enterprise resource planning (ERP), end-user communications (CCM), and company-produced content (CMS) systems, enable utilities to leverage valuable information to facilitate targeted upselling and cross-selling opportunities, maximizing value for the customer. CCM in particular can offer companies interesting opportunities during the onboarding process: by leveraging customer preferences, companies can target personalized offers and recommendations.

5. Integration with digital customer care processes

Digital customer care processes can significantly improve the overall customer experience. Integrating digital care solutions, such as real-time chat, self-service options, and social media, into onboarding processes promotes rapid problem resolution and improves the overall customer experience. It’s the overall attitude that needs to change: by building on data evidence, utilities accrue a comprehensive view of their users and take a proactive approach to react to change.

Ultimately, the real measure of customer onboarding success in utilities is the perceived value of customers. By acting in a timely manner on the five key points above, utilities can improve customer satisfaction by achieving higher Net Promoter Score ratings. Building a positive onboarding experience lays the foundation for establishing a long-term relationship with the customer, positively impacting the company’s reputation and profits.