Hockey legend Wayne Gretzky once attributed his uncanny ability to read plays to, “I skate to where the puck is going to be.” That concept applies to utility chief customer officers and CX professionals; those who are tuned into consumer expectation trends understand where their “puck” is going to be.
Cogent Reports’ Utility Trusted Brand & Customer Engagement (UTBCE) study is designed to understand customer engagement from a holistic perspective encompassing brand trust, product experience and operational satisfaction, but this blog post offers a simpler framework for customer experience. First up is marketing, which allows you to tell your customers what they can expect of you as a utility. Second, and just as important, is the actual experience customers have interacting with you—and where they judge whether your marketing was truthful or just blowing smoke.
Marketing for the 21st Century Utility
If you’re not yet focusing on your utility’s brand, you need to be. The importance of brand in explaining customer engagement has grown across the board: it now accounts for a minimum of 30% of our Engaged Customer Relationship Index across all twelve of our utility benchmark segments.
Successfully communicating utility brand involves a number of activities. However, customers are placing increased importance on local engagement like employee volunteerism and corporate giving. In other words, “showing” is becoming as important as “telling.” Additionally, the importance of clear communication has climbed. If you’re still using utility jargon in your customer communications, stop it! And, if you don’t know if your communications are clear, ask your customers. (Shameless self-promotion: We can help with that!)
Turning to product marketing, one of the most significant changes we’ve seen is the importance of benefits awareness, which comes at the expense of design features. For the utility marketer, that underscores the importance of de-emphasizing messaging on how the program is designed (e.g., “you’ll be charged based on when you use electricity”) in favor of emphasizing how your offering benefits customers (e.g., “you can save a bunch on charging your car overnight”).
Customer Experience Made Easy
If you have a role in customer service or program design, drop everything else you’re doing and focus immediately on making it easier for your customers to do business with you. In our UTBCE reports, we’ve already analyzed how much more “ease” influences satisfaction than traditional metrics like first contact resolution (spoiler alert: a lot), and this trend is growing.
While customers still expect utilities to deliver operational excellence, we’re seeing shifts in what’s important in billing and outage experience. Within billing and payments, importance has shifted away from transactional items like “ability to pay with preferred methods” to more subjective perceptions of ease/effort, usefulness and accuracy. It’s now less important to customers that utilities minimize outages and more important that they provide accurate information via multiple channels when outages occur. For more on this, see our Increasing Brand Trust and Satisfaction Through Outages report.
Last, but certainly not least, customers are increasingly expecting their utilities to be top-tier customer service providers. For example, when looking at program design, the importance of a programs’ ability to reduce costs has decreased, while the importance of improving ease and customer service has increased.
The Importance of Right-Brained Thinking
Here’s where the right-brained part comes in. Taken together, these trends are showing that customers want an emotional connection with their utility. The implication is that a logical approach to utility customer experience is necessary but no longer sufficient to truly create world-class experiences. Rather, chief customer officers and other utility CX professionals need to shift their focus to creating emotional bonds with customers through effective marketing and engaging (and easy!) product/service experiences.
To learn more about how Market Strategies’ Cogent Reports help electric and natural gas utilities optimize customer experience, email me.