I recently sat down Don Hodson, head of customer experience (CX) at Georgia Power (GPC), to discuss how GPC is maximizing the effectiveness of its CX program. For energy brands that are working hard to create a positive, seamless experience for its customers, Don’s insight might just spark an idea that can be applied to your company’s strategy. Enjoy!
Can you explain GPC’s customer experience goals and the specific issues you’re trying to solve with research insight?
Don: Georgia Power has a strong reputation with our customers already so there is little value focusing on improving a customer sat score from 8.5 to 8.6. Rather, we look at all the interactions customers have with GPC—the channels they use, the issues they have—to identify where there are barriers to resolution or where we force them to make extra effort. Then we focus on how to mitigate those issues to reduce customer effort. Not only does this improve customer sat but, in many cases, it also identifies opportunities to decrease operational costs.
Solar roadways have captured the public’s imagination – see, for example, the viral “Solar FREAKIN’ Roadways” video produced by Solar Roadways and viewed more than 22 million times. And we certainly do use a lot of land for roads and parking lots – 61,000 square miles by some estimates. So why not use this space to also produce power?
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.
We recently released our 2016 Utility Customer Champions, which awards gas, electric and combination utilities nationwide that have the highest scores on our proprietary Engaged Customer Relationship index. Among this list are 26 utilities that have “three-peated,” meaning they’ve been designated as a Customer Champion every year since we started these awards in 2014.
Here’s what sets these utilities apart, and what your utility can do to get on the path of enduring customer engagement:
‘Tis the season when your loved ones ask what you need (or, in my case, your kids proclaim what they want)! In the spirit of gift-giving, we penned a letter to Energy Santa with our “wish list” of energy-related products and services. The ideas are based on results from our 2016 Utility Trusted Brand & Customer Engagement™ study, and although they apply to energy consumers in general, we’re focusing on the group nearly every company hopes Santa will deliver—Millennials.
Texas has been leading the nationwide move toward electricity market deregulation for many years. It launched with the promise of more choice, better plans and products, and lower prices. For the most part, these promises have been met. Few markets, if any, have more competition or products than Texas. But has it resulted in lower prices?
In 2014, Texans living in deregulated areas (such as Houston, Dallas, El Paso) paid approximately 15% more for electricity than their counterparts living in markets with integrated utilities (such as Austin and San Antonio), according to a report by the Texas Coalition for Affordable Power. In that same year, Texans in deregulated markets paid 12.59 cents per kilowatt hour, more than the national average of 12.52 and well above the rate paid by Texans living in areas with regulated utilities (just under 11 cents per kilowatt hour).
The report suggests several possible explanations for the higher prices, including inefficiencies in the deregulated market, customer confusion about comparing rates and higher prices from legacy companies that remain from their regulated counterparts. While these are all valid explanations, I suggest there is another element in play: customers are paying a premium because of the intrinsic value they place on the retail electricity provider’s (REP) products and brand.
Want to create more opportunities for women in energy? “Will and determination is all you need,” says Bjarni Bjarnason, CEO of Reykjavik Energy.
Ernst & Young’s 2016 “Women in Power and Utilities Index” reveals that women constitute only 23% of North American utility non-executive directors and 21% of senior management. While this leads the world (Europe comes in second at 23% and 12%, respectively), it is still nowhere near the 51% proportion of women in the overall population. Ernst & Young’s report also highlights why gender diversity is more than a moral imperative – they found that the 20 most gender-diverse utilities outperformed the bottom 20 by 1.07% in return on equity.
Utilities are increasingly turning to value-added products and services to increase customer engagement and reduce their cost to serve, but unmanaged business accounts –commercial customers without a key account representative–are a third less likely to adopt these voluntary programs. This is one of the reasons unmanaged accounts score 25 points lower than key accounts on Cogent Reports’ 1,000-point Engaged Customer Relationship Index.
Utilities have a good sense of how to engage key accounts because they have a personal relationship with them but often don’t know how to engage unmanaged accounts, which constitute a third of utility revenues nationwide. Our research shows that there are five clear segments offering distinct engagement pathways for unmanaged businesses. These segments are:
Brand Trust among residential consumers of the nation’s utilities increased by one point in Q3 over Q2 of 2016. The industry’s overall Brand Trust Index now stands at 694. Emotional attachment brand traits increased two points, while management performance traits increased one point during the quarter. While this is an improvement, utilities are building Brand Trust very slowly, and they have a great deal of work to do to become truly trusted by their customers.
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The utility industry has made significant strides in reducing its environmental impact. According to the Edison Electric Institute, in 2015 utility CO2 emissions were 21% below 2005 levels, driven largely by a switch to natural gas from coal and increasing deployment of renewable resources such as wind and solar. Additionally, utility energy-efficiency (EE) programs nationwide save enough electricity to power nearly 12 million homes each year.
Despite this tremendous progress in environmental stewardship, customers do not perceive their utilities as environmental stewards. As we discovered in our 2016 Environmental Champions awards, customer perception of environmental dedication greatly lags other brand trust factors.