New products and technologies are changing how customers interact with their energy provider and have opened up opportunities to offer additional products and services designed to drive engagement, trust and revenue. The utility of the future will need to engage with customers through value-added products and services that go beyond simply providing reliable service, but how do utilities pivot from operating as a regulated monopoly to becoming innovative and inspired product marketers in a competitive landscape?
The good news for utilities is that they have abundant resources and capital to support new-product development. The challenge, however, is that they are accustomed to putting those resources to use within a very structured, regulated environment that is not well-suited to the free-thinking and “willingness to fail” ethos often required to successfully generate ideas and turn those ideas into new products and services. Simply put, innovation as well as product or service development requires a culture and skill set that many utilities lack.
Utilities should keep in mind three principles as they work to evolve into innovators and product marketers.
Leveraging Value-Added Products and Services to Build Brand Trust and Drive Customer Satisfaction
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When we think of world-class brands, companies like Amazon, Apple, FedEx and Nordstrom come to mind. For these companies, customer loyalty begins with trust—trust built over years of consistently delivering on a strong value proposition. Many energy utilities have built trust among their customers as well by consistently providing a reliable supply of electricity at a relatively reasonable price. However, the energy industry is at a turning point, and utilities can do much more than simply deliver reliable service. New, smart technology and advances in renewable and alternative energy offerings have customers searching for guidance to understand how these new offerings may improve their lives. Who better to fill that role than the trusted, local utility?
Why Trust Matters for Utilities
Some might argue that the concepts of trust and loyalty are irrelevant in a market without competition. Yet, it remains imperative that customers believe their utility is operating in their best interests. New products and technologies are changing the way energy companies interact with customers and have opened up an array of additional products and services to drive engagement and trust. Our research indicates that building brand trust is the best way for today’s utilities to drive adoption of value-added products and services, improve customer satisfaction and insulate the utility against negative events.
Customer engagement is a growing priority for energy utilities, but ongoing research at Market Strategies indicates that utilities are failing to leverage new smart technologies that could cultivate more meaningful customer relationships. Our new syndicated research program, The Utility Trusted Brand & Customer Engagement Study, provides a solution.This industry-leading research enables electric and gas utilities to:
- Benchmark performance on operational satisfaction, brand trust and engagement
- Target improvements based on how their brand is perceived
- Strengthen the utility-customer relationship
The study’s unique brand and engagement model helps utilities understand how they are positioned compared with the overall industry and where to focus improvement efforts to boost their image and earn their customers’ favorability and trust. Let me describe the four trends we’ve been watching that inspired us to launch this new research program.
I recently presented at the Social Media for Utilities Conference in Atlanta, and I find myself wondering if energy utilities are prepared to engage with customers through social media. What struck me was that, even among attendees, only limited resources are being dedicated to social media. An informal poll revealed that most in attendance only dedicate one or two staff members to maintaining a social media program, and those individuals tend to dedicate less than 50% of their daily time to the effort. While many utilities seem to be testing the waters, they have yet to put forth the effort and resources required to support a full-scale social media presence.
Here are a few of my takeaways: