Transforming Customer Satisfaction in the Utilities Industry

John Hutchins, Director Client Services at Slalom, shares how the utilities sector, which ranks as the least customer-friendly, can improve satisfaction

In the realm of utilities, selling essential products that everyone needs yet nobody enjoys paying for, has always been an uphill battle in terms of customer satisfaction. And, when you add into the mix a cost-of-living crisis — caused in large part by increasing energy prices — the challenge has never been greater.

According to John Hutchins, Director Client Services at consultancy Slalom, utilities still struggle to translate energy, water use and cost into terms that customers can understand and manage in the moments that matter.

“The potential to revolutionise the utility customer experience through digital and data-driven solutions is clear,” he said. “Drawing parallels from the banking sector — where regular updates on account status, upcoming payments and spending habits have enhanced customer satisfaction — utilities can use similar strategies.”

Smart meters key to improving utilities industry 

In the UK, for example, this can come down to the fact that, at the end of March 2023 — more than a decade after the rollout started — only 57% of all electricity and gas meters were smart, the UK government said.

However, in the USA, Berg Insight's 2022 North America update records the smart meter installed base in the US at 116.2 million in 2021, which is expected to reach 93% in 2027, totalling around 149 million smart meters across the region.

“This is an opportunity to follow the banking lead and give customers proactive insights,” Hutchins adds. “Despite the clear value proposition, few utilities companies have capitalised on this potential through push communications. Although some companies have experimented with Machine Learning-based energy insight services, such as EDF Energy's Energy Hub, there’s much more that’s possible to effectively communicate customers' habits and trends.”

One of the leading operators when it comes to customer satisfaction is Octopus Energy, thanks to its position as a digital challenger. This is because Octopus has put data at the heart of its operations. In the eyes of Hutchins, this simple move ensures that customers and agents  always look at consistent information, which dramatically improves conversations when customers do get in contact. 

Common complaints — and how best to tackle them

Due to legacy infrastructure borne in decades past, systems and agents have to prepare to be able to handle a vast array of edge-cases like unusual metering and outdated prepayment systems. This can make serving customers with modern problems a complex feat. This is where generative AI can help de-jargon information so it can be presented as plain information to customers or agents, in turn, improving the quality of responses and the ability for customers to self-serve.

Hutchins concludes: “Many utility players have already seen the massive potential in this emerging technology to improve service and have put MVPs in place. The challenge will be to integrate this technology with a simple set of intelligent, proactive communications that keep customers in the loop — enough that they feel in control but not too much.

“Coupled with data analysis to spot the warning signs of customers falling into difficulties with their bills, generative AI could also be a huge force for good to make early, friendly customer interventions on a massive scale.”

With this in mind, it’s safe to advocate that the utilities industry goes forward with a proactive, data-driven communication approach, coupled with the natural language power of emerging technologies like generative AI, to transform the challenging landscape of customer satisfaction.

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