Most utility companies are beginning some sort of digital transformation but they lag so far behind many other industries such as retail and banking; both of which have already improved their customers' experiences through implementing new technology. They have now developed strategies that focus on mobile apps and digital customer service. Incumbent utilities providers must start to do the same and adopt these much-used and much-desired technologies to keep pace with the challengers emerging in their industry who already do so.
The return on investment from mobile apps can be huge, as proven by the experience of retailers and banks. They now see their customers spending far less time on the phone to their call centres and instead they are using apps for billing and payment queries. Customers want to access their latest bills, input their meter readings and quickly contact customer service via their mobile device. Offering this is a basic business imperative to improves satisfaction overall, increase positive customer experience and drive loyalty.
Some of the challengers are also disrupting the industry with added-value services as well as cheaper prices. The Big Six are battling against lower tariffs offered by newer rivals and their ability to give customers fewer and less complicated tariffs to choose from. This cuts out much confusion making it far easier for new customers to sign up fast. First Utility and OVO Energy have also launched broadband services, giving customers the chance to bundle this into their bills. Others offer exciting Internet of Things technology such as Nest or Hive to entice people to become a customer. Some are also now creating a strong message around the fact they offer energy from renewable sources.
When these emotional pulls and impulses are positively augmented by digital technology, such as a quick switch via an app or referral link to a website, it becomes a major driver for gaining new sign-ups. Bulb and Pure Planet are two great examples of this. We are also now seeing the Digital Transformation Officer becoming more prevalent in this industry. Working alongside the marketing department, they can begin to use big data analytics to target new products and promotions at their existing and new customers.
Utilities have so much data already, on different pricing structures and usage. Much of this, unfortunately, exists in silos and is not stored in the cloud, rather hosted on legacy on-premises infrastructure. This makes it harder to leverage and analyse and also represents a security challenge given the advent of the General Data Protection Regulation, which comes into force in 2018. Harnessing the cloud enables personalised billing for customers, with promotions based directly on their habits. The power of analytics drives this and utility companies can use it to help customers understand their usage better, show them how to cut monthly costs and save money on their bills.
Cloud technology massively improves utilities' Customer Information Systems (CIS). It can handle interval meter reads and complex rates, support customer engagement across multiple channels and integrate with a variety of different technologies. Ultimately it reduces churn from unhappy customers and puts in place a secure infrastructure that can be managed externally, if things ever go wrong. The biggest issue utilities face when wanting to improve customer experience is a struggle to know where to start. They understand how important it is for the future but a lot of the larger, incumbent companies have been running off legacy kit on-premises for decades and the idea of moving to the cloud, or a hybrid cloud approach, scares them.
But this scalable infrastructure is the only way to improve customer experience over time to keep pace. It is also cheaper, meaning more money can be spent internally on further digital transformation or new energy ideas. The new entrants are quickly and effectively shaking up the utilities market with their focus on customer service and experience. It's time for the legacy operators to get fully switched on to the future. They must invest in new technology to compete with the challengers, rather than play catch-up.
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