Why Utilities Should Engage Their Customers
Things are changing for utility and their customers.
Time was a utility company only came on the radar when a bill arrived, or when something went wrong with the service and it was time to complain.
With the popularity of social media and the mobile and instant nature of internet communications, utility customers are faster to reach out to their providers, with the best and worst of their customer service fair fodder for public discussion.
For utility companies, that means great customer service is more important than ever.
So what can utility companies do to improve their customer relations?
Customer Trust in Utilities Has Room to Grow
According to the article "3 Ways to Get Better Customer Service", customer service overall has a way to go.
The number of customers reporting problems rose from 45% in 2011 to 50% in 2013.
For utility companies who don't want their customers to be counted among the dissatisfied, it's time to pay attention to the customer service experience, the transparency with which problems are handled, and the speed with which complaints are dealt with.
Good customer service encourages customers to trust their utility companies, letting them know that the company values their custom and is dedicated to providing them with a well-priced and reliable service, and fixing problems quickly.
With customers quick to talk about their experiences, that means a better public profile for the company, more customer loyalty and, ultimately, better profits as customers stay and pay.
Real Time Updates Keep Customers in the Loop
For utility customers, service outages are frustrating and inconvenient. A lack of updates from their utility company only adds to that.
Finding ways to manage outages that keep customers in the loop and let them know what is going on and, more importantly, what exactly is being done about it, lets them know that their utility company is doing everything it can to give them the service they expect.
For example, Wisconsin Public Service Corp has had success in tackling outages with an up to date outage management service.
Real-time information on current outages and Twitter updates combined with useful information how the company handles outages has made the customer experience that much more useful, earning WPS high scores on customer satisfaction surveys.
Responsive Customer Service Earns Praise
Midwestern utility company DTE Energy beat out the competition in the J.D. Power 2014 Customer Satisfaction study, with customers responding positively to DTE's strong focus on customer satisfaction.
DTE has worked to make the customer experience a better one by making it easy and convenient to pay bills, reducing waiting times, and making life easier with readily available information about natural gas safety and energy efficiency.
Truly customer-focused service puts the customer first at all times, looking for ways to make their dealings with a utility company pleasant, quick, helpful and convenient.
By striving to offer quick and responsive customer service that gets the job done, utility companies can build customer satisfaction.
Good Social Engagement is a Powerful Customer Service Tool
Social media is a meeting point for customers and businesses of all kinds these days.
Customers take to social media to research businesses, to connect with businesses they already give custom to, and to find out what other people are saying about businesses.
For utility companies, joining this conversation in a positive way with interesting and useful social media updates and quick responses to comments can help to raise their profile.
The E Source Utility Social Media Survey in 2013 showed clearly that a strong social media presence is a must for utility companies.
Customers praised companies such as Dominion, PG&E and Avista for their personal touches, great online personalities, interesting information and use of social media to keep customers updates about outages and issues such as storms.
Utility companies can make use of technology and social media to build strong customer relations, offering their customers quick service, keeping them in the loop when trouble strikes, solving problems and creating an online presence that is welcoming and engaging.
Tristan Anwyn writes on a wide variety of topics, including social media, SEO, utility companies and customer service.
Ofwat allows retailers to raise prices from April
Retailers can recover a portion of excess bad debt by temporarily increasing prices from April 2022, according to an Ofwat statement.
The regulator confirmed its view that levels of bad debt costs across the business retail market are exceeding 2% of non-household revenue, thereby allowing "a temporary increase" in the maximum prices. Adjustments to price caps will apply for a minimum of two years to reduce the step changes in price that customers might experience.
Measures introduced since March 2020 to contain the spread of Covid-19 could lead to retailers facing higher levels of customer bad debt. Retailers’ abilities to respond to this are expected to be constrained by Ofwat strengthening protections for non-household customers during Covid-19 and the presence of price caps.
In April last year, Ofwat committed to provide additional regulatory protection if bad debt costs across the market exceeded 2% of non-household revenue.
Georgina Mills, Business Retail Market Director at Ofwat said: “These decisions aim to protect the interests of non-household customers in the short and longer term, including from the risk of systemic Retailer failure as the business retail market continues to feel the impacts of COVID-19. By implementing market-wide adjustments to price caps, we aim to minimise any additional costs for customers in the shorter term by promoting efficiency and supporting competition.”
There are also three areas where Ofwat has not reached definitive conclusions and is seeking further evidence and views from stakeholders:
- Pooling excess bad debt costs – Ofwat proposes that the recovery of excess bad debt costs is pooled across all non-household customers, via a uniform uplift to price caps.
- Keeping open the option of not pursuing a true up – For example if outturn bad debt costs are not materially higher than the 2% threshold.
- Undertaking the true up – If a 'true up' is required, Ofwat has set out how it expects this to work in practice.
Further consultation on the proposed adjustments to REC price caps can be expected by December.
"While it’s great that regulators are helping the industry deal with bad debt in the wake of the pandemic, raising prices only treats the symptoms. Instead, water companies should head upstream, using customer data to identify and rectify the causes of bad debt, stop it at source and help prevent it from occurring in the first place," she said.
"While recouping costs is a must, water companies shouldn’t just rely on the regulator. Data can help companies segment customers, identify and assist customers that are struggling financially, avoiding penalising the entire customer in tackling the cause of the issue."
United Utilities picks up pipeline award
A race-against-time plumbing job to connect four huge water pipes into the large Haweswater Aqueduct in Cumbria saw United Utilities awarded Utility Project of the Year by Pipeline Industries Guild.
The Hallbank project, near Kendal, was completed within a tight eight-day deadline, in a storm and during the second COVID lockdown last November – and with three hours to spare. Principal construction manager John Dawson said the project helped boost the resilience of water supplies across the North West.
“I think what made us stand out was the scale, the use of future technology and the fact that we were really just one team, working collaboratively for a common goal," he said.
Camus Energy secures $16m funding
Camus Energy, which provides advanced grid management technology, has secured $16 million in a Series A round, led by Park West Asset Management and joined by Congruent Ventures, Wave Capital and other investors, including an investor-owned utility. Camus will leverage the operating capital to expand its grid management software platform to meet growing demand from utilities across North America.
As local utilities look to save money and increase their use of clean energy by tapping into low-cost and low-carbon local resources, Camus' grid management platform provides connectivity between the utility's operations team, its grid-connected equipment and customer devices.